Dec 142008

I grew up in a single-parent home. My mom worked full-time, and I was expected to help around the house. The advantage of this kind of upbringing is that I learned how to cook at a very young age. At age 11, my after-school routine involved picking up my brother from nursery school, cleaning up the house, and occasionally, starting dinner. By age 13, I was cooking supper for my family at least twice a week.

Cooking, for me, is one of the easiest and most enjoyable parts of homekeeping. It helps that I’m blessed with a husband who oohs and ahhs over everything I make, and brags to all of his friends about what a great cook his wife is. A little encouragement goes a long way :)

Unfortunately, cooking and menu planning are areas where many women struggle. I attribute this to our hurry-up society, where people work long hours without enough leisure time. When they get home from a long day at the office, the last thing they want to do is cook. Instead, they rely on convenience foods, because they’re quick and easy. Scratch cooking seems to be a lost art, and many young women today never learn the basics of cooking from their mothers or grandmothers. I remember that I was chatting with a young mother at the mall play area once, and she said that she and her husband order takeout 5 nights a week, because she only knows how to cook two things – tacos and frozen pizza.

Food cooked from scratch is healthier, tastes better, and is much cheaper than convenience food and restaurant fare. If you’re new to cooking and would like to learn the basics, I can recommend an excellent book. Betty Crocker’s Cooking Basics: Learning to Cook with Confidenceoffers simple recipes and useful information, such as how to set up a kitchen, how to read a recipe, a glossary of ingredients, and a complete explanation of food preparation terms. I highly recommend it.

The Food section of the HMG can also help you get recipes and menu planning under control:

In my Food section, I keep the following:

-My Menus by the Month list. This is a list of 30 meals, including side dishes, that are tried and true family favorites. When I’m lacking ideas for something to make, or don’t have anything particular that I need to use up, I look to this list for inspiration. When I make an item, I write the date next to it, to prevent repetition and insure variety.
-The USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan
-A copy of the current Food Guide pyramid
-A chart of appropriate portion sizes for different age groups
-Helpful magazine articles about cooking and nutrition

I don’t keep a menu planning worksheet here, because I’m not a long-range menu planner. I plan our menu each morning, based on what I need to use up. However, if you’re interested, you can print a nice menu planning worksheet here.

You can also keep recipes in this section, or you can keep them in a separate binder, like my friend Rachel. I keep my recipes organized the old-fashioned way – arranged by category in two, hand-me-down, 3 x 5 recipe file boxes. One was my mom’s, and the other belonged to my husband’s Grandma. I like these because I like to think about the women who used them before me. For me, that’s the fun of used stuff – it has a story.

I’m not a big cookbook user. In fact, I recently narrowed my cookbook collection down to only three. I took all the rest to the consignment store. The three that I kept are these:

New Cook Book (Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbooks)

Betty Crocker Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today, New Tenth Edition

The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook: Over 75 Savory Recipes for Meatless Meals (Creative Cooking Library)

These are good, basic cookbooks. If there is ever a recipe that I need, but can’t find in one of them, I can always find it on one of the many free, online recipe sites. AllRecipes is my personal favorite, because I love the ingredient search. It comes in handy when I have small amounts of leftovers, and can’t figure out what to do with them. Definitely check it out!

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