19 Mar 2008

You know when you read old housekeeping manuals they emphasise that one of the most important tasks of the homemaker is to provide decent nourishing food for their families and every child will soon tell you how important the evening meal is, I'm sure they start thinking about it from the moment they get home from school. Not to mention their interest in what goes into their lunch boxes and what there might be for afternoon tea.

" Keeping a home clean and bright is certainly necessary, but seeing that the family gets appetising and nourishing meals is the very essence of the housewife's job."
How to Run Your Home without Help by Kaye Smallshaw 1949

I have been re reading "Something from the Oven" by Laura Shapiro which discusses how the food manufacturing industry in the USA attempted to take over the home kitchen by promising to to take over the "difficult" job of providing meals for families. It makes interesting reading and explains why so many American simple living sites list cooking from scratch as a way of saving money and improving health. I assume most of my readers are skilled at cooking from scratch. I had no idea that cooking from scratch was an unusual thing to do. Scratch was what my mum used to call a meal of leftovers, I think it meant whatever you could scratch together to make a meal.

I have no idea how the majority of Australian families are fed. I assume that either the mother or father but most probably the mum is cooking a meal each evening using basic ingredients and making use of convenience pantry staples such as canned tomatoes, dried pasta, maybe prepared stock and so on to make meals from mostly fresh ingredients. I assume that they will occasionally have take away (take out) food most probably on a Friday or Saturday night. I presume that most people make a cut lunch of sandwiches, a piece of cake, some fruit and maybe some nuts and dried fruit for their children's lunch at school.

I could be and probably am completely wrong. I see all sorts of strange things in people's shopping trolleys and feel a kind of kinship when I see someone with similar trolley contents to my own.

How and what do you eat?
Is "cooking from scratch" just what you have always done or is it new and unknown territory for you?
I think it's fascinating how, why and what we eat, I'd love to know what you think.

What do you eat?

( there are lots of really interesting comments if you want to take a look)

30 Responses to “Food”

  1. Jenny,
    Great minds think alike! I was planning to blog about pantry staples tonight when I got home from work. And you're quite right about how manufacturers have changed the way people cook in the West. People are under the impression that cooking from scratch, i.e. from fresh foods, with a few pantry staples like pasta thrown in, is very difficult and time consuming -- no doubt a byproduct of the manufacturing industry's vie to get us to purchase their products.

    Looking forward to hearing more about people's input on this!

  2. Hi Again Jenny

    Well, I've completed a day in my life, not sure it was rivetting stuff for anyone else to read but it was fun, thanks again for the idea :)

    In relation to your post on what do we eat, here it is predominantly our home grown fruit & vegetables when in season, organic meats sometimes when I can get it and lots of salads, rice dishes and pastas.

    Breakfast is usually porridge or toast and fruit, lunches usually salads or sandwiches and dinner slow food, altho I feel that's a misnomer because altho I cook from scratch, it is not always time consuming.

    I dry or bottle tomatoes and other fruit and vegies and use those, I buy my pasta and of course rice, altho I am looking into trying to grow rice in buckets....if I can only get the seed!

    My mother cooked from scratch, she taught me, that's all I have ever known, besides which, the taste of cardboard, chemical laden, mass produced pre-prepared foods doesn't appeal to me.

    Take away is usually once every 2 months when I have a work board meeting, the rest of them use that as a treat night lol

    We don't have much in the way of cakes or biscuits, most of us here have a savoury preference.

    Ice-cream with my 2 teens is a favourite, I make my own, they have that 3 nights a week with fruits for dessert the other nights.

    I like you, did not stop to think this was unusual until I did an article in our organisations newsletter, I was gobbsmacked by how many said...."omg, surely you don't do all that", I was of the opinion it was always as quick and easy as you wanted it to be LOL!

  3. Hi Jenny,
    Cooking from scratch was the only thing I knew. I grew up in Europe and at the time there was not much available in way of convenience food. Although my mother started using some of it as it became available (like instant mashed potatoes) I still very much prefer the real thing. When I moved to the US 2 1/2 years ago I was slightly overwhelmed by all the instant stuff that is available here and by how much more expensive fresh fruit and vegetables seemed to be. For a while we kind of fell into the convenience trap but now I am back to cooking from scratch only. I bake my own bread, make yogurt and cream cheese and ginger beer. And it really is not that time consuming to whip up a pizza from scratch or a cake or cookies. We eat a lot of beans, lentils, rice and pasta during the week, once a week I make pizza (movie night) and now that the days are getting warmer I make a salad for dinner at least once a week. On the weekend I cook chicken, fish or other meat. My husband gets a packed lunch every day, pretty much the things you describe, sandwich from homemade bread, cake or cookies, fruits, veggies, nuts and dried fruits, homemade yogurt. Cooking from scratch is the only way to avoid all the chemicals and additives in food and I really enjoy cooking simple and healthy meals. Like you I sometimes wonder about the things I see in other people's shopping carts. And convenience food is more expensive and produces huge amounts of trash. I plan to start a vegetable garden this year, if I am successful it will also help save some money.
    I always enjoy reading your blog (one of my daily blogs :) ).


  4. Hmmmm...I try to make my own from scratch as much as possible. 99.99% of my dinners are homemade. I have tried to make my own bread, but failed at it(not at the making, but the actual logistics of having time, remembering to do it, and having fresh bread for lunches), so right now we buy store bought. I don't do so well with lunches. We tend to open a can of soup, make a mix or this, cook frozen that...all bought from the store. I just don't know how, other than sandwiches or leftovers, to make lunch recipes (we homeschool, so the kids are home). Breakfast....I let the kids eat cereal, because they like it and it is easy. We have two apple trees and I can apple pie filling, applesauce, and applebutter from them. This year, I will have my first veggie garden....I can't wait! I would like to start some lettuce now...but am not sure how. Oh well, all in good time. (Oh, and you are talking about what people in Australia eat....I live in the US though.)


  5. Hi Monique, I'm interested in what everyone eats not just Australia. I agree lunch at home can sometimes be a problem. Soup is always good and leftovers. We do a lot of sandwiches and toasted sandwiches. When everyone is home we often have a pasta dish , just something simple often just butter and garlic and herbs, or some pesto and parmesan cheese.

  6. The best meals I make are made from scratch. I love to make soups, stews and roasts because I can get more mileage from them (cook once for two or three meals). And does anything smell better than these meals coming together on the stove. Only rivaled by a fresh homemade loaf in the oven!

    Sometimes a quick dinner is needed. My not-from-scratch standby is a casserole: a can of green beans, a can of chicken (or two cans of tuna), and a box of au gratin potato mix. I mix them together with the milk and butter suggested on the box of potatoes and throw it all in the oven.

    I don't care for boxed potatoes, but I think this is probably better and certainly less costly than fast food.

  7. Oh, Jenny, Jenny....(sadly shakes head). Unless you've seen it, you would not believe it. I have had the good fortune to have lived half my life in Australia, and half my life in the USA. I grew up on fresh, farmers market fruit and vegetables -- we would stop at the roadside stands on our way to the city and buy up freshly picked plums, apples, all sorts of goodies -- and learned how to cook everything from scratch. As a teen, when we moved to the USA, the food differences were noticable but my mother was doing most of the budgeting and cooking,so we didn't have the "luxury" of junk food. As a mother in Australia, I continued as I was taught -- fresh, wholesome food, made by scratch. Had a lot of fun "recreating" American stuff with scratch ingredients. Looking forward to the time when I could get my hands on a "real" Twinkie. Back here again in the USA, boy was I in for a SHOCK. You can read about it here:
    if you like. Cooking/eating from scratch is not only not "done" in the general population, it is also more difficult AND more expensive. Fruit and veg prices are exorbitant, natural foods are hard to find. It's pretty disgusting. And I live in the fertile midwest so I can't imagine what it's like in some of the other parts of the country. Thanks for your post.

  8. I garden and belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture). That is the backbone of our diet in the summer. Dinner always starts with whatever vegetable is overtaking the kitchen. We homeschool and lunch is almost always left-overs from the previous night.

    Winter meals are soup, brown rice with beans or vegetables, spaghetti with homemade sauce....Year 'round we eat substantial breakfasts: eggs, whole grain pancakes.

    We're Americans and going to the traditional (as opposed to the Amish-run natural foods store near us) grocery store is depressing indeed. I see carts piled high with soda, boxed cereal, styrofoam packages of cheap hamburger and the odd box of California strawberries.

    I've noticed that cooking even a simple homemade meal is definitely a bigger mess and takes longer than boxed food. What we need to fight against, and fight hard, is the notion that there is something better we could be doing with our time.

  9. Well I cook all from scratch and was raised that way. But I know a lot of people who rarely cook form scratch. It terrifies me to think about what they eat :-) Clarice

  10. Interesting post. We eat porridge every morning during the week. On the weekends we often have some eggs & bacon or pancakes. Sometimes we have bagels.

    My children carry both snack and lunch to school. I usually include a turkey/cheese/lettuce sandwich (I don't make my bread, but buy from a local baker), fruit, a thermos of leftovers from dinner, homemade cookie, and carrots.

    We eat more meat than we should. We have a lot of pasta and rice dishes with veggies and meat. The only packaged dinner food I serve is the occasional macaroni and cheese for the kids.

    I bake all our treats, but I only bake on the weekends. We rarely have dessert.

    I think that the local food/organic food movement is catching on, but that the general American public has a very long way to go. The sheer amount of processed foods available in the stores is absolutely stunning.

  11. I love my bread machine for making bread and pizza dough, and I make my own chutney and ice cream. During spring and summer, we have our fresh veg from the garden, and apples from our trees in the autumn. There are however certain things I will buy ready-made, like curry pastes, canned tomatoes or canned beans in water as a time saver. I also have not figured out yet how to make naan, which my husband just loves. Most of our meals are vegetarian, with meat reserved for the weekends. Lunch is often homemade soup and bread.

    Those pasties look yummy Jenny. I think I will have to try them.

    Best wishes,

    Anna Marie

  12. The average American must eat a lot of "heat and eats," or pre-packaged foods, as the grocery stores have an ever increasing inventory of these items.

    During my tenure as a school teacher, I slowly realized that the students rarely ate dinner with their parent(s), ate candy/junk food on the way to school as a breakfast, and drank copious amount of soda with their meals. Once I asked the students to mention their favorite Thanksgiving food. While turkey is traditional, it isn't unusual for families to forgo the bird for other meats or dishes. Imagine my shock, however, when I was told that they ate, "turkey hot dogs."

    During one short period of time in 33 years of marriage, we tried buying heat and eats and building the meal off of that, but felt it was far inferior and stopped it!

    While I have cooked from scratch for most of my marriage, I have expanded my cooking to include items such as mayonnaise, and eliminated almost, but not all purchased snacks. I am working hard at eliminating what might be considered "toxic" ingredients.

    I cook a large variety of meals from beans to roasts, some ethnic meals, and some family recipes. The family favorite is soup and homemade biscuits. Simple fare.

    I try to buy the best ingredients, even though it costs more. We just use less. We raise our own turkeys, chickens-both meat and eggs, sheep, and a new this year, rabbits. I freeze some vegetables from the garden as well as the farmer's market, make jams, and applesauce from our own trees. We are by no means totally self-sufficient, but it helps.

  13. I live in the USA (Kentucky) where my grandmothers always cooked from scratch, but my mother was a convenience cook. I can remember getting meals from scratch when I was very young, but by the time I was a teen, my mom had taken a factory job (to earn money for "extras" that she wanted in the house) and would keep canned Chef Boyardee and Kool-Aid for us kids. Breakfast was Pop-tarts or boxed cereal. The only cooking lessons we received was how to cook dried spaghetti and open canned sauce for those days when we wanted some "real" food. And that was normal for my friends too. In fact, most of them never had a mom who cooked from scratch except during the holidays.

    For years (until I was about 30) supper (the main evening meal)consisted of Hamburger Helper and mashed potatoes made from potato flakes and a can of green beans. I began to realize that my grandmothers had cooked with love and my meals didn't feel very loving, more like thrown together chow for the desperate.

    I'm nearly 40 now, and ashamed that my children have developed a taste for convenience foods and fast-food take-out. I'm learning to cook with more whole foods and from scratch and they appreciate and enjoy it...but we all still get cravings for "junk". I dream of helping us to turn our diets around as I learn to cook healthy meals from scratch.


  14. (Oh I love this blog!!!)
    I'm in the US. I grew up with cooking from scratch and that's what I do too. I enjoy cooking and baking, so I don't consider this cumbersome at all. In fact, I was so gratified to read the first few paragraphs of your post because I think my family eats really well, but my house is somewhat dirty (not too cluttered, but dirt, yes).
    The convenience food I buy: frozen peas, frozen OJ concentrate, frozen tortellini or pierogies, canned tomato soup. I make our bread and can/freeze fresh produce in the summer because we like the taste better (it's not always cheaper because we live in the city and don't have a garden).
    I really recommend the cookbook More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre for thrifty ways to cook from scratch. For lunch today, my toddler and I had a soup from that cookbook that is dead-easy and great for kids: puree any cooked leftover vegetable with some milk, flour, seasonings and heat it up. Today, cooked carrots and cabbage leftover from Monday's Irish corned beef, plus a dash of nutmeg and onion. Voila - lunch!!

  15. I live in the USA and make a dinner from scratch for my family of four most every night and we eat together. But if you watched TV and listed to the commercials you would think that this was not the norm. There is so much junk posing as food being marketed to the poor unsuspecting public. One memorable commercial shows a family sitting around the table eating Kentucky Fried Chicken from a bucket with all the "fixin's" and they are touting this as a great family dinner and how wonderful it is that they are all sitting around together. And everything is about convenience. What are people so busy doing that they can't make a simple dinner? Why aren't we teaching these skills to our young people? It is just as important as algebra and soccer. Sorry if I ranted too much. You struck a nerve.

  16. I make everything from scratch. I started doing it because of my daughter's severe food allergies. She has multiple food allergies and will stop breathing if she gets the offending food. So I make every meal from scratch - breads (all kinds), desserts, soups, stews, seasoning mixes, etc. It started because of the allergies but now I find that it is so much cheaper to do it this way as well as healthier for the rest of the family as well. I don't think it takes any more time to cook and eat healthy.

  17. What a fascinating read through all these comments!

    I feed my family almost identically to you Jenny. I know no different. My mother was a cook-from-scratch Mum. When we lived in PNG there was NO convenience food! And junk food was stale before we bought it. Bendy potato chips are NOT appetising!

    I've just sat down with my Mum this morning and said to her "here are my goals for teaching my children to care for themselves and their own homes in the future". It had goals for the ability to make a cake, and then a full meal by a certain age (11yo & then 13yo respectively).

    I really value being able to provide healthy nourishing food for my husband and children. REAL food, the way God made it rather than the way people have tried to duplicate it. I like knowing that our food is fairly low on human intervention before it reaches our bellies. I hope that our children will benefit from good health as a result. And I hope that they will take with them the desire to do the same for their families.

    The only time I ever used 'Healthy Choice' type frozen meals was when I had my 3rd baby and it took me a couple of months to get myself on track with a good routine again. Three littlies with none yet old enough to be self sufficient is busy work!

    Your vintage books on homemaking sound absolutely wonderful. I don't suppose they're available in libraries today?

  18. Hi Jenny,
    I bake my own bread and rolls. We grow our own seasonal vegies and I cook from scratch. It is the only thing I have ever known. We have take away once a week in the summer on our busiest night when we are all over the place, there are 6 of us so we have a lot of activities happening after school. In the winter though I put the slow cooker on so dinner is ready for when we all walk in the door. I bake fresh muffins and freeze them for the weeks lunches. I have very fussy eaters so I do get frustrated but I don't know any other way of preparing meals and from scratch, of course, is so much cheaper and healthier than fast food. Very interesting subject.


  19. I am from the US (New York)and have always cooked for my family from scratch. I have belonged to food cooperatives, shop at the Mennonite markets, and buy my fruits and vegetables from farmer's markets whenever I can. I work full-time, so the simple meals are during the week, and fancier recipes I save for the weekends when I have more time. I rely on my crockpot, and my oven timed-bake feature quite frequently. My three grown children are all good cooks and make their meals from scratch, so I feel good about that.

  20. Hello Dear Jen, with the cost of groceries here in the is getting very difficult to eat a well balanced diet. We are a very low income family and can't very often afford fresh fruits and vegetables. We have tried growing our own, but wasn't very successful at it. My husband and son do prefer covenient foods such as lunch meats,pizza,etc.some of the time,but they also enjoy a good hot home cooked meal.I got married at 15 and didn't know how to cook much,but I learned very fast and believe myself to be a good cook today.As far as cooking from scratch, there are not a lot of young women I know who cook this way,but older women here still cook delicious meals and bake goods from scratch. I myself don't do alot of baking and have not been successful in baking homemade breads, but I am good at making homemade biscuits(bread) and my family loves them with milk gravy for breakfast. I decided not long ago I would begin baking my own breads and did bake one loaf which had a great taste ,but was tough on the outside. I intended to keep it up until I turned out a great loaf of bread,but fate would have it, my oven quit working. At this time I am baking with a small electric oven which isn't the same as cooking with a regular size oven.

    I really love visiting you and enjoy learning from you. I am 48,but do not believe one can ever grow to old to learn from others. I so admire your creativeness in sewing, housekeeping,etc. I will continue to come see you and learn from you.


  21. Hi Jenny and everybody,
    I live in Europe (The Netherlands), we have less of all the packaged stuff but still I'm amazed to see what people eat and call a real "meal".
    We eat bread with cheese or peanut butter for breakfast. It's always whole wheat, never white. I sometimes bake myself, but we have a bakery around the corner so we get it there most of the time. Lunch is usually bread too, my daughter (she's a toddler, so very picky eater at the moment) loves grilled cheese (croque monsieur) sandwiches so I make those 5 days a week for us. :-)
    Diner is vegetarian during the week, we eat meat on the weekends sometimes. I try to eat a bit of everything, so one day it's potatoes, next it can be lentils, rice or pasta. Always a lot of vegetables. We eat take away (thai, mexican) or junk food (McD) about once every two weeks.
    We try to eat as healthy as we can and I always feel we can do better, but when I look around the other carts or talk to people I know we eat healthy. I'm also very surprised at how much soda people drink!
    I found this very interesting, maybe some of you will too (hope the link works):,29307,1626519_1373664,00.html

    I looked through this slide show a few times and I'm still amazed at the differences!
    Christine from the NL

  22. I always wonder why my grocery bill is so high when there are complete aisles that I don't even go down.
    I am not an always from scratch cook. I buy sandwich bread and canned fruits and veggies. Sometimes demand will exceed my time/energy level and I will buy packaged cookies for lunches.
    The big problem is once the family is used to real food, you can't get away with frozen lasagna or boxed mac and cheese! They just don't like it.
    Dinner for our family of 9 for the past few days has been: Sweet and Sour smoked sausage over rice with homemade banana bread. Turkey tetrazzini with applesauce (store bought, salad and a loaf of homemade bread. Tonight is homemade chicken stew over biscuits and apple salad. I have to shop so I will put the stew in the crockpot.

  23. Hello Jenny,
    An interesting post and I've enjoyed reading all the comments.I'm a cook from scratch person myself, meals, lunch boxes, bread and cakes. Thinking of the people I know and work with I think over half cook meals from scratch most of the time but I have noticed that very few people bake biscuits, cakes or bread on a regular basis.

    It is interesting that the term cooking from scratch has become prevalent. Like you I remember a scratch meal being a meal made of bits and peices left over - we used to have a scratch meal the night before we went on holiday using up everything perishable before the fridge was defrosted and turned off while we were away.

  24. Hi Jenny,

    it's very interesting, to read, how people eat and cook all over the world.
    I live in Germany and try to cook from the scratch, but sometime I also use convenience stuff. My Mom was a from the scratch cook, and I learned it from her.
    In Germany, normaly school is ending at 1 p.m. so I always cook for Lunch and we have Salad and Sandwiches for Dinner. For me, it is more important, to eat with the kids than, if it is from the scratch or not. Eating together means time for talking, they can tell me, what happend in school and everything.
    I think, fresh food is moderatly priced in Germany. And I have a farmers market 2 times a week around the corner where you can get everthing from fresh vegetables and fruit, cheese and many different kinds of homemade sausages to real good bread, like the ones my grandma made on her farm when I was a child.

  25. Very interesting topic. I posted a comment yesterday but I think it vanished. I've been thinking about this a lot since I read it yesterday. I think I cook very similar to my mom (and her mom wasn't much of a cook at all, but great-grandmother was). I don't buy heat-and-eats because my family won't eat them, but my convenience food are very simple meals like pasta and sauce from a jar and scrambled eggs and toast (and I buy all my breads from the grocery store).

    One major obstacle to eating more genuine homemade food for us is our typical suburban lifestyle- husband traveling part of the week, busy kids, busy mom.

    Breakfast is often dry cereal but also often homemade waffles, pancakes, scrambled eggs. I put a lot of thought into my kid's lunches. Dinner is where I lose it though. My energy lags, the time is broken up with picking up children from school and activities, picky eaters, husband away- all adds up to our usual weeknight quickie supper. In the summer, it's cold supper of sliced veggies and fruit, cheese, crackers- grazing stuff. In the winter I make a lot of grilled cheese. When dh is home M-Th, it's usually baked piece of meat with salad and noodles for the kiddos.

    I would love to be a more adventurous cook. Though my mom was something of a bland cook (though not on holidays, she's a good cook- she just didn't do it much), we ate from our enormous veggie garden and ate beef from a local farmer, very little sweets, no soda. Hubby grew up eating McDonald's and pizza.

  26. Hi Jenny - very interesting topic. I've gone through different phases in relation to cooking, at one time I had a lot of convenience meals - I was working long hours as a lawyer and the last thing I felt like doing when I'd get home at 8pm or later was cooking. But now, we cook from scratch a lot more, although as we don't have a vege garden we buy all our fruit and veg (mostly fresh though, frozen peas/corn, tinned tomatoes). We always have takeaway on Friday nights, and that usually does us for Saturday lunch as well.

  27. With a family of 6 and a low income, my parents (and grandparents) always cooked from scratch - and still do. As a mother of 3 , i do as well - it is all i have ever known. And it's much easier to bake a cake, than it is to get 3 children in and out of the car to buy a packet mix and then still have to make it!

  28. Here in the UK we have been subsumed by the 'ready meal' culture - meals all ready prepared in a plastic dish which can just be zapped in the microwave for a minute or two to provide a hot evening meal. Although these ready meals can be very tasty, and very useful in an emergency, they are not something I would want to eat on a frequent basis, as many people here do. They are loaded with salt and hydrogenated fats, and all sorts of horrible 'E' numbers. Many of our larger supermarkets have whole aisles dedicated solely to 'ready meals', which I find somewhat frightening. I usually cook an evening meal from 'scratch' every day, and often that includes a home-made soup too. I make all our own bread, albeit using a bread machine, and as I don't have a freezer at the moment have to make all pastry and suchlike by hand from scratch too. I know I'm quite unusual in cooking this way, but I am also blessed in that I don't work outside of the home and so have the luxury of the time to prepare home cooked food every day. I realise that many working mothers do not have that luxury, which is why ready meals are so popular.

  29. We're a cook from scratch family (including bulk whole foods, preserving, baking and our own garden kind of scratch), as a single mum on a pension there is just no way I could feed us healthily otherwise.

    I do think it's the healthy, tasty option but sometimes I begrudge the hours it takes every day, and then the hours of washing up after. Urghhh. I *do* love cooking, but when you have to do it 3 times a day, every day until my wee one is an adult, it can loose a little of it's shine if that makes sense.

  30. hi
    I am thinking of writing a post on cooking from scratch... Here in India we always cook from scratch we dont even have cant tomatoes or canned beans we soak , wash and cook....
    all veges are washed and chopped and cooked ..


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat. I don't always have time to reply but I do read every message you leave.