10/29/15

Home cooking - is it a thing of the past?



When Karel was growing up in his small town of Znojmo, Czech Republic, eating out was a very special treat, only enjoyed on very special occasions. Eating out was also an opportunity for Karel and his siblings to practice their good table etiquette. Eating out wasn't cheap either.
But at the end of the day, nothing tasted as good as his mom's home cooking.

Over the past few decades, our society has changed in terms of how we live our life. It seems like everyone is so busy these days with extra curricular activities, we never have to worry about being hungry thanks to limitless options to get food and with many families having two working parents, home cooking is difficult to accomplish most nights of the week.

Has our society become comfortable with living a lifestyle that doesn't emphasize home-cooking or, do we have easier ways to nourish and fuel our busy lifestyle that we don't need home cooked meals?
And by the way, what is home-cooking these days?

Is home-cooking putting peanut butter on a waffle, heating a sweet potato in the microwave, steaming broccoli or cooking a chicken breast on the skillet? 

Or, is home-cooking making your own bread, making your own jam, growing your own produce, pickling your own vegetables or baking your own chocolate chip cookies from scratch?

The great thing is that there is no one definition of home-cooking and for most of us, depending on the day, a can of soup is a home cooked meal.

It's likely that the way that Karel was raised, with a home-cooked meal every night of the week, fresh bread all the time and everything made from scratch, was how many people were raised.

But it is also likely that for many people today, it's not just that a person lacks skills in the kitchen, but home cooking is an after thought. Buying food to prep it and then to wait for it to cook is too much work. There is little patience or appreciation for home cooking.
And I think this is the problem. Home cooking is not part of our lifestyle.

I know that for me, I had a mix of home-cooked meals and fast food growing up. My parents had two very active athletic kids who ate a lot and in addition to working all day, my parents were also shuttling us around to all of our activities. Some nights we would have a home cooked meal (typically not as a family due to my brother's gymnastics practices and my swim practices) but other nights it was fast food or something heated in the microwave. 
My mom made the best zucchini bread (zucchini from our garden) and my dad loved making chicken cacciatore for my brother and mom. 

It wasn't until I met Karel in 2006 that I started to really appreciate home cooking.
Why?

Karel loved to cook. Every time I went over to Karel's home when we were dating, he wanted to cook me a meal.  And because he was dating a vegetarian, he had to be extra creative with some of his Czech recipes. But above all, I could see that food was a big part of Karel's lifestyle. Not only did he love to eat but eating was a happy time for him. He was never too rushed or too busy to make a meal. It was almost as if he didn't know any other way to feed himself - if he was going to eat a meal, he was going to cook it, just like his mom did.

Now this isn't to say that Karel didn't eat fast food when we met or we never went out on many dates to restaurants but Karel always had a great appreciation for home cooking.

While dating Karel, I continued to appreciate his love for home cooking. And as a health conscious individual, I found myself deviating away from the most "healthy" processed foods (determined by reading a food label) to seeing real food as the best foods to nourish my body and to fuel my active lifestyle.
It was life changing.
No more "healthy" thin pieces of bread. We now only eat fresh local bread (typically with less than 6 ingredients).
Instead of a "healthy" bar or bowl of cereal for breakfast, we make our own pancakes or crepes.
We are so lucky to have a grocery store close by as we are constantly restocking our fridge with produce and other real foods.

Over time, without being obsessed, Karel and I became more invested in what we were eating. As athletes, food was not only our fuel but it was nourishing our body to keep us healthy.

We didn't have a lot of money when we were dating, so our grocery shopping options were sometimes limited but we still felt passionate about home cooking and with the money that we had, we made an investment in real food options that offered health benefits.

I've never been one to follow recipes but I am constantly finding myself inspired by my surroundings. All it takes is a picture of a meal or a menu item and I get excited to get into my kitchen.

Sometimes I do feel too busy to cook but fast food isn't even on my mind. There is always a way to get a meal on the table and somehow call it "home made."

I love being creative in the kitchen. My meals are not extravagant, I don't measure, I don't count calories and my meals are not complicated. I have a lot of fun in the kitchen and some meals are picture-worthy for social meal....and some, not-so-much.

After 9.5 years with Karel, I have great appreciation for how Karel grew up and I wish more kids, families and adults had this upbringing or continued the tradition.

Regardless if you eat alone, with your significant other or with your family, I encourage you to enjoy cooking. You don't have to be a great cook to cook but it is important that you find great satisfaction in being the one who prepares the food that goes into your body (or the receiver of a home cooked meal).

If there is any incentive for being a more consistent cook, whether it's cooking a potato in the microwave, making oatmeal, combining yogurt with chopped fruit or following a recipe from a cook book, understand that there are great health benefits in making meals at home.

Don't be intimated but be sure to make the time.
Start with a cuisine that you really enjoy or a recipe that is super simple.

And above all, even if it feels like too much work, convince yourself that home cooking is worth the work.

Eventually, you may find yourself getting to the point where you can't help but take a picture, and share it with a friend or on social media, because you are so proud of what you created in the kitchen.