To Cook or Not To Cook. The From-Scratch Debate

>> Friday, January 28, 2011

Lacy asks: You bake and cook so much stuff all the time, and it all looks good (and healthy to boot)! Do you make every meal you eat from scratch? I want to know what you eat in a typical day/week (and if you could send some motivation to cook over my way - haha!).

When we received Lacy's email, I read it aloud to Stephen and almost fell over laughing. Why exactly? I mean, it's a valid question! You see, the circumstances were just too much to take. At the time, I was elbow deep in a plastic container of Chinese takeout (bean curd with garlic sauce, with a side of MSG probably -- thanks for asking). I was supplementing it with an ice-cold beer. And for dessert, I was planning on eating a peanut butter cup.

It was just one of those nights. So -- in short, Lacy -- no, I do not toil over every meal.

It's not all green banana scramble and cacao energy chunks here at our casa. We do not (repeat: do not) 100% abide by a whole foods, made-from-scratch, granola-or-bust diet. We don't mill all our own flours. We don't make Stephen's seitan every time we want wheat meat. We don't even bake cookies every time we need a chocolate fix. It just isn't practical for our busy lifestyle. So, we do what we can when we can (Stephen eats probably far better than I do, truth be told).

We like to show you all the highlights and most memorable moments on the blog, probably making us look like we feast on only the most good-for-you stuff the world has to offer. All the time. No matter what. Um. Not true. So very NOT true!!!

That doesn't mean we don't try to eat well as often as possible. I've already written all about my stance on junk foods and how I don't fret about 'em. That being said, we try our best to choose foods that are healthy. I definitely make room for dessert every single day (and usually more than one). But if we're talking about general intake. What we usually eat . . . it's pretty boring, which is why we don't take the time to write about it. That's right: Eating well doesn't have to mean hours in the kitchen following tricky, photo-worthy recipes.

If it did, our kitchen would always look like this:

O.M.G. No thank you, because we STILL haven't purchased our dishwasher.

For this post, I'll focus on my own habits (because Lacy asks what we eat in a typical day). Stephen can fill his in another time. For me, it goes a little something like this . . . and I'll give the three MVMs (most valuable meals) for each, well, meal.

  • Oatmeal with peanut butter and banana
  • Smoothies
  • Cereal (current favorite: Autumn Wheat)
  • Spinach salad with apples, walnuts, and kidney beans
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat
  • Leftovers from dinner the night before
For snacks, I eat Greek yogurt (current favorite: Chobani Black Cherry). Graham crackers. Carrot sticks. Anything I can toss into a bag on the go, really. You can take a peek inside our fridge, if you like. Notice how there isn't anything that's terribly time-consuming on this list. I rarely break out new recipes during the week unless I know they'll be quick. That's what the weekend is for -- learning and practicing. Maybe even preparing ahead of time.

Working full time and having a full life outside of work requires planning. (We are called never homemaker for a reason, because it really does seem sometimes like we're never home!) It also demands tried-and-true recipes that can be made in minutes. Foods that are sustaining enough to give energy to get through all those crazy moments. Finding the right balance is totally up to you and your circumstances.

What do I recommend if you are having trouble preparing more than microwave meals (though, you can up the nutritional value on those, too)? Well, I challenge you to carve out an hour on Sunday afternoon and make something new and different that you can save for the week. Like how we make our Pumpkin Chili. I personally love to cook and spend time in the kitchen, so this time for me is mind-clearing and fantastic. If you don't love it so much, play some music or have a movie playing in the background.

It's just like exercise, really. You just need to find what makes it work for you.

  • Start small, but yield big. If you take the time to make a full crock pot full of something, you'll either have lunches for two most of the week. Or dinner for a couple nights. It's fantastic. More bang for your time-buck. (Uh. That doesn't work, but you know what I mean!)
  • Create a list of go-to meals. Those ones I listed above are totally the ones we go after on nights when we feel there's just no time. Or crazy mornings. I mean, pouring a bowl of cereal takes two seconds. (And yes -- this includes a list of healthy-ish takeout places for those especially insane days.)
  • Create a list of go-to ingredients. Maybe you're comfortable cooking with eggs, for example, and you know you can whip up something healthy and fast with them (like a protein-packed omelet). Maybe you dig sesame oil and soy sauce (like us) and know if you steam some broccoli and add the sauce to it, you'll get your fill. Whatever it is, getting to know ingredients that are easy to work with or that you and your family enjoy is super helpful.
  • Find the fun in it. I find that a lot of people associate cooking with work. And we don't want to do work when we're returning or going to work, right? Try to find something about being in the kitchen that brings you joy. It will make your stomach AND your mind happy.
  • When all else fails: Eat Simply. Carrot sticks require basically no time to prepare. Apples are a healthy snack on the go. Keep peanut butter and a loaf of whole grain bread at your desk for in-a-pinch lunches. Do what you can when you can. And ENJOY the food you do eat.


More dark, colorless clothing items today. (But at least I have one color on!) I must have enjoyed wearing my shawl yesterday -- I broke out the other one I have (and haven't worn in months).

Dress and necklaces: Target
Leggings: Gap
Vest: TJ Max
Belt: Kohl's
Boots: Gabriella Rocha (via Zappos)

Is from-scratch at all times best? I'm taking a wild guess, but I'm thinking a lot of you who read our blog love to cook. But I'm also thinking some of you find it exhausting/annoying/etc. or feel it's not your favorite activity of all time. Love it or hate it, we want to know!

Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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