I thought it would be fun while I was away at Blissdom to give a few readers the opportunity to do guest posts here on Frugal Upstate. This one is from my good internet friend, Karen.
Creative Frugality: Cooking from Scratch
When I became interested in living a frugal lifestyle, one tip I encountered over and over again was that eating at home is an excellent way to save money. My husband and I rarely eat out, and we even pack lunches for work using leftovers from a previous meal. Everyone has to eat, but not everyone enjoys cooking or baking, although everyone should learn to cook at least well enough to feed themselves or a family. I totally love to cook and bake, especially dishes done the old-fashioned way . . . from scratch.
Cooking from scratch offers many benefits:
1. Use of fresh, natural (not pre-processed or artificial) ingredients with fewer chemicals to contribute to food allergies and cause or exacerbate digestive problems or other health issues.
I used to believe butter was too expensive to use except on special occasions. Then I realized that margarine or “spreads” are mostly oils, chemicals and water, and they won’t brown well at all. Butter browns more evenly because it is made from natural ingredients, and less butter is needed to achieve the best flavor in a recipe.
2. Control of ingredients (and thus control of health-related issues such as sodium and fat content) and portion sizes for less waste.
Have you ever noticed how huge some restaurant portions are? Some of them could easily feed two or three people.
3. Better tasting food and better nutrition.
4. More variety in your diet.
I’ve never seen a boxed cake mix for Italian Cream cake, but I have an excellent recipe for making one from scratch.
5. Creativity and fun!
I love seeing a recipe come together from basic ingredients, and I enjoy experimenting with different herbs, spices and seasonings. Many recipes can be changed at any time, just by using different ingredients.
6. Less expense.
Processed food is expensive because you are paying for convenience as well as for other costs such as advertising and shipping/storage. Ingredients for scratch cooking can be purchased in quantity when they are on sale so that recipes can be made more than once, or extra portions can be prepared and frozen for later use (which is very handy when you are ill or too tired or rushed to prepare a meal on a busy weeknight or when it is just too hot to be in the kitchen very long).
In a single afternoon, it is possible to prepare, package, and freeze enough complete meals to feed a family for a week, or even up to a month. This can be done with the help of a friend or significant other, and you can even trade recipes your family enjoys for “new” ones from your friend for a change of pace. It is perfectly possible to “make your own” mixes for pancakes, cakes, biscuits, soups and many more items at home and save money in the process. Having an “extra” pan of lasagna, enchiladas or an extra casserole on hand can be like having money in the bank, because there is much less chance of needing to purchase “fast” food.
7. An opportunity for sharing.
My husband and I often work together in the kitchen on weekends or to prepare holiday meals, and this is an excellent time for us to talk and laugh with each other. I began teaching my children to cook when they were five years old, by letting them come into the kitchen with me and help with safe and simple tasks. Our grandchildren also enjoy being in the kitchen to prepare simple recipes with adult supervision.
Of course, cooking from scratch assumes one has a firm grasp of basic cooking skills.
If you do not know how to cook, there are a variety of ways to learn. You can borrow cookbooks from family, friends, or a library or find them at garage sales if you do not have money to purchase new ones. You can browse a multitude of recipe sites online or you can find video demonstrations of cooking techniques on television or online.
I believe that one of the most effective ways to learn to cook is by watching experienced cooks who will let you ask questions and even help them in the kitchen. I watched my parents and my grandparents cook family meals, and as I became old enough to be safe in the kitchen with them I was allowed to do basic tasks like peeling potatoes, cutting vegetables or brewing coffee or tea.
I learned to make almost all of my grandmother’s holiday recipes by watching her make them. I refuse to purchase “stuffing” in a box, because the dressing/stuffing I make using her recipes and techniques tastes so much better. I cringe at the thought of purchasing someone else’s idea of potato salad (often simply cubes of potato coated with mustard) when my mother’s homemade potato salad (colorful, flavorful and nutritious, with a variety of crunchy fresh vegetables and seasonings added) can be easily and inexpensively made.
Cooking from scratch does sometimes take extra time, so planning ahead, doing some preparation ahead of time, and having extra hands helping can speed things along a bit. As your proficiency in the kitchen improves with practice, you may find that it takes much less time to cook from scratch, because you can cook several foods at once. I typically do most of my cooking from scratch on weekends when there is less stress. I almost never make a recipe for the first time for an “important” occasion. I prefer to practice first, which reduces the chance of making mistakes that render a dish inedible. As with any other skill, the more practice one has, the better the ultimate outcome will be.
One does not need a kitchen full of expensive gadgets and equipment to be able to cook from scratch; ordinary pots, pans, cutlery and baking dishes work just fine. My grandmothers as brides did not have electric mixers, microwave ovens or food processors, so they used a rotary egg beater or a plain fork to beat an egg, and a good sharp knife or two and cooked on a wood burning stove. I hope I have provided some “food for thought” and that I have inspired you to learn to cook or to improve your cooking skills, and that you will explore the many ways to be creative in cooking “from scratch.”
Karen is a native Texan, and has been living a frugal lifestyle and finding ways to save money and keep my home well organized for almost four years. She enjoy finding creative ways to live frugally and become more self-sufficient. Karen recently wrote my first book on frugality, organizing and saving money: Saving Our Sanity. She is a regular, loyal reader and commenter here on Frugal Upstate. Please give her some Comment Love!