Food, oh glorious food. I love eating. Cooking not so much, but eating is one of my favorite things.
Dinner for me growing up was simple, routine and bland. Spaghetti and plain sauce with bread and butter on Mondays. Fried egg and cheese sandwiches on Wednesdays. Frozen pizza on Fridays. Roast chicken in broth in the crockpot with canned veggies on Saturdays. Roast beef, potatoes, onions and carrots with a can of cream of mushroom soup dumped on top in the crockpot was our fancy Sunday dinner. Food that 12 year old me could easily make on days mom was working and that I could have ready by the time she and dad got home. Breakfast and lunches were even simpler: cereal and milk, PB&J on WonderBread. Non-negotiable. The favorite mid-day snack for we kids was white sugar sprinkled over a slice of bread, folded in half and edges crimped to make a sugar pocket. You get the idea; a health and flavor sensation my time in the kitchen was not.
During my teen years, my mom began working full-time for a packaged-goods food broker so things like shrink-wrapped ramen noodles (I started my junior year of university with 5 cases of them!), bagged breakfast cereals, single-serve frozen dinners, and luxury of luxuries boxed lasagna became the routine meal go-to’s. I can’t remember a fresh vegetable entering any of my kitchens from the time I was 16 until I moved in with Jeff when I was 22. Shameful but true.
Jeff was luckier, he had a mom who made relatively healthy (although very Dutch and Midwest bland) meals three times a day, seven days a week. There was a lot of fresh vegetables around a slab of meat at the plate’s center and always fresh fruit on the counter. So he went off to school expecting to make and eat real meals from real food on a daily basis. Alas, as quality home-cooking wasn’t a common part of my life, we agreed early on that Jeff would do the bulk of the cooking and I would do the dishes.
Over time, eating out increased along with Jeff’s wages, to the point that we now eat out 4-5 times a week and nosh on restaurant leftovers at least once or twice a week. No fuss, no muss. Let someone else take the trouble. Let someone else clean up. Everyone gets what they’re in the mood for. Maybe get a drink or two while we’re here. All it takes is a swipe of the blue credit card.
Well, um, it also means that we spent 14% and 13% of our income on eating out in restaurants, bars and cafés in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Can we afford this? Yes, I have always made sure that our budget is always in the black. Is this a good use of our time and money? No, not at all. It’s too easy to fall back on the “well, we can afford it” crutch, to ignore the larger costs to ourselves, the budget, our relationship, and the environment.
Cooking for ourselves day in, day out will clearly line up better with some of the goals I mentioned in the original post. By menu planning, shopping and cooking together, we can increase the nutrition we give our bodies, boost our consumption of grains and vegetables, and reduce the negative health effects that Jeff is now experiencing. Working together and sharing the moments of our day in a more natural and less distracting environment will help to patch some of the holes that have popped up in our relationship over the years as well. Reducing our day-to-day meat and dairy consumption will go a long way to minimizing our meals’ carbon footprint. As for slashing the drain on our bank balance, that’s a given. I know it will vastly improve my existing cooking skills too, while fostering some more taste and seasoning creativity in both of us.
So the cookbooks* are our of the pantry and on the counter, ready to help us find new favorites, learn new techniques, and make new memories.
*the cookbooks that survived the last household purge