How did you learn how to handle making meals?

Specifically, I mean the entire process of procuring and preparing food.

DH’s relative’s household is currently having trouble because the wife in the family got brain cancer, had brain surgery (has an amazingly good prognosis, considering) and can no longer do all of the stereotypical wife things that she had been doing.  That leaves DH’s relative and remaining 3 kids at home completely helpless when it comes to meals.  She did all the menu planning, grocery shopping, and cooking.  Since she got sick, they’ve been eating a lot of rice and beans because they’re income limited and that’s all he really knows how to make.  He also has to work overtime to pay for everything so it’s not like he has a lot of time and ability to put into the process.  He says he’s pretty terrible at it.

He does have three teenage kids at home who are perfectly capable of taking on some of this work.  Which my DH suggested.

So with the relative’s permission we sent the kids a copy of our favorite easy to use cookbook for beginners without a lot of money (unfortunately Faster! is out of print) with instructions to double the recipes, along with a giftcard from Walmart (which is their local grocery store) for $100.  To give them practice menu planning with a budget.  I don’t know if it will do any good, but maybe it will.

I learned how to use grocery circulars for sales, how to build up a pantry, and how to comparison shop at a very young age.  My father would take me to the market and show me the process he went through.  I learned cooking from both my parents and have a repertoire of both of their weeknight meals.  At a slightly older age I took over cooking a few nights a week and once I got a driver’s license I was in charge of a portion of the grocery shopping.  (Before then I would occasionally be sent on my bike or by foot to get missing ingredients if necessary.)  I experimented with recipes and menu planning during long boring summers.

DH never really learned how to shop or cook until he married me.  In college he spent one year on the meal plan and then survived the remaining three years with a combination of eating out at cheap restaurants (usually Schlotzky’s and Pizza Hut) and getting free day-old bagels from the bagel place next door to his dorm.  After marriage I showed him how to comparison shop because when you’re living in a city and using public transportation, shopping requires muscle.  At first, I did most of the cooking, but one day when he asked me to make (my father’s) chili for him, I realized that that was probably something he should learn to do himself.  So I taught him.  Then he taught himself more.  Then he took a cooking class to get better knife skills.  Now he’s a better chef than I am.

We’ve been teaching DC1 to cook, and when I remember I try to show hir how to comparison shop even though we don’t really do that much anymore (we have our favorite brands and can afford them).   Being able to eat cheaply is pretty freeing, especially when you’re starting out and so much of your disposable income is going to food.

How did you learn how to procure/prepare food?  Do you do it the same way that you learned?  If not, what has changed?

56 Responses to “How did you learn how to handle making meals?”

  1. Tania Says:

    I learnt to make cakes with my Grandma at a young age and always went shopping with her so started to learn then. Was always in the kitchen so started to learn more but didn’t really learn menu planning until I left home. It’s been a very gradual process but I definitely enjoy it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Cakes are awesome.

      The one recipe my DH could make before we got married, other than putting stuff in the bread-maker was something called dump-cake. A box of yellow cake mix. Butter pats on the top. Then cover with cherry pie filling.

      We learned to make real cakes from scratch in graduate school once we got a stand mixer. We went through the Old Fashioned cookbook and it was delicious. I did not like cake very much before that because I wasn’t crazy about cake mix. But real cake from scratch is something else entirely.

  2. yuppiemillennial Says:

    Since my folks worked I started cooking simple meals as a teen like spaghetti, fish, and salads. I didn’t really learn how to cook properly though until I joined a food coop in college (rotate making meals for each other) and fell into a social group of foodies after graduating.

    Once a month bulk cooking may work with so many helping hands. Have premade food as backup if the teens cook and mess up or if they forget. Also those bagged premade meals are good for getting new cooks familar and comfortable with a stove.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, bulk cooking is a good idea. I don’t know if the relative has the skills/ability/resources to get that started though, and mistakes could be really costly. It’s the kind of thing DH could suggest if he were going to visit, but we’re not going to be going this summer.

  3. Nanani Says:

    I never learned much about comparison shopping from my parents, probably because they didn’t do that either having grown up in rural places with only one grocery store available (but everyone also grew/raised/hunted other food).
    Otherwise, pretty much how you describe – learning to make simpler meals from my parent’s repertoire and going up from there as interest and necessity required.

    As an adult I don’t enjoy cooking and have enough money that I can buy low-effort things most of the time, but I CAN make something more effortful.
    Plus there’s google.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      A lot of the comparison shopping was, “is the generic still the best price given that the store-brand is on sale or they’re using the name-brand as this week’s loss leader” or “which fruit/vegetable other than bananas is affordable this week.”

      Low effort food is awesome.

  4. Solitary Diner Says:

    I loved to cook as a kid, so I started cooking and baking alongside my Mom at a very young age. My Mom had a Betty Crocker cookbook, and I would look through it to find interesting recipes to try. When my Mom went back to work when I was a young teenager, my brother and I were each put in charge of planning and cooking one meal per week, so I learned more about the actual mechanisms of meal planning at that time.

    The real learning about grocery shopping and meal planning and cooking didn’t come until I moved into an apartment on my own at the age of 20. As a busy undergraduate student, I found it really tough to find the time and mental energy to cook good and inexpensive foods for myself. I know that I ate a lot of Doritos and toaster strudels for the first few years. It’s almost 20 years later, and I still find myself on the learning curve of cooking well for myself, particularly now that I’m back to cooking as a single person.

  5. Rosa Says:

    I watched my mom budget shop, and cook, but she did all the planning in her head so that wasn’t visible. She didn’t really encourage us to help so I didn’t actually learn to cook until I was out of the house – plus my first year on my own, I was in PT for a jaw injury so I could only eat very soft foods!

    Later, most of my learning was from being a volunteer at the coop who got sent home with free food pretty often, and later doing Food Not Bombs, so it was more of the “what to do with this pile of food” than “how to plan and shop.” I still am better at the “this was cheap at the farmer’s market, what do we make out of it” style of cooking than the planned shopping style.

    Learning is kind of inherently expensive, because you make mistakes, so it’s extra hard to do it on a tight budget. Your gift was very nice!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You’re absolutely right that there’s a lot less room for error when you’re on a tight budget. You may have to eat the disgusting mistake or go hungry.

      I don’t know that $100 goes very far with 3 teenagers, but we figured it was a nice round number for a budget.

  6. becca Says:

    Meal planning was all my Dad’s thing. Every meal had a protein and a starch that went together and an inter-changeable fruit or vegetable (usually fruit unless what he’d bought needed an extra day to ripen), mostly canned veggies. Lots of simple to prep stuff like spaghetti and cous cous. In the summers, we’d eat more traditional American fare and never anything that required an oven (hot dogs and baked beans kind of stuff) and more fresh fruits/veggies.
    From my Dad I learned how to comparison shop exceedingly well (he was a 3 grocery stores/week kind of person), and also to plan around inexpensive staples and eat what was in season. He would always know when produce or meat was at a good price. That said, he did very little of the long term food prep/freezing/canning stuff some people do.
    I don’t meal plan as well as my Dad did. I don’t like frozen or canned fruits and veggies very much, and I don’t eat meat, so the “fruit/veggie plus starch plus protein” doesn’t work for me. We eat a lot more frozen pizza than I did growing up, and a lot more beans and rice variations.
    As a teenager, I think there were a couple of times when my parents went out of town my Dad gave me a certain amount of cash and let me do the grocery shopping with it. So that kind of thing helped with the money side. My parents also got me a good kid’s cookbook with color coded measuring spoons when I was fairly young (8?), which helped me learn to do the following-instructions type of cooking (and probably science).

    When my Mom cooked it was either really intensive special stuff (holiday baking, or birthday pot roast and potatoes anna) or “my Dad isn’t eating because of a stomach flu let’s make the soup with MSG or eat eggs” super fast stuff. I actually mimic my Mom in the kitchen more than my Dad, I think.

    When I went off to undergrad, I ate pretty sadly in the dorms (so glad for the waffle makers!), in part because of the vegetarian thing. Then I moved in to the eco-friendly housing co-op and really stepped up my food prep game. I learned to cook predominantly vegan food for 14 people with whatever was on hand from the farmers market, and buy a month’s worth of mostly organic staples from a food catalog (we got the same supplier the food co-op used) for… I think ~$1000 for 14 people? We split up the pantry type orders from the fresh stuff orders, and I did the pantry type stuff. I know the total food budget started at $1400/month ($100/person, but not everyone opted to eat all meals at the house).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My mom is also in the protein/veg/starch camp. (My father, otoh, is more of a “use stuff up in one pot or pan” cook.)

      • becca Says:

        HA! My SO is a “use stuff in one pot” master (yet, somehow, *still* manages to use a ton of kitchen implements/dishes). I never thought of them as contrasting styles, but I think maybe they are. I wonder if there’s correlated personality traits or if it’s just what you learn?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think it’s just what you learn. My mom was taught traditional American home-cooking style. My father learned to cook via french cooking schools in a gustatory city as a single man on his own.

        Though perhaps there is some personality trait as I hate dirtying dishes and do things in one (or at most two) pot/pan if I can by, for example, throwing the peas in with the rice. And I definitely do not go through all of the trouble of taking things out of a stirfry just to put them in again. (Though, oddly, my father does double fry french fries which, while it makes them taste better, seems like a huge waste of energy.)

  7. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    Learned to cook from my mom and dad. They’ve always had a big garden, so it was a mix of ‘frugal whatever’, three vegetarians, and what was in season. Though they’re from the Bland Midwest, they overcame it and we always had lots of spices around. I think I also got general principles of frugality from them: how to save money, how to decide if you need or want something, etc. Once I was 12 or so I’d make dinner once a week at least, and when I could drive I’d often be sent off to buy groceries. In grad school I didn’t have a car, so I had to either get a ride with a friend (this was about once a month) and get all the heavy stuff I’d need for the month, or carry it home on my bike from a seriously dodgy neighborhood, which encouraged planning in advance. After I got married the spouse and I used to pick a different country off the World Corruption Index every week and make a meal from it, which expanded our horizons and cooking techniques a lot. Also, there were some great markets where we lived, so we’d get stuff there and look up recipes. I taught the spouse to make bread (my dad taught me, and his mother taught him).

    I first had to budget one summer in college when I was doing research. Then we were all living on one postdoc salary ($42,000!) and I started reading Pocket Your Dollars (back then it was more how to live on less rather than a ‘deal site’). I still get some bulk stuff (mostly because the Mennonite store has a better selection than the local Walmart). I still have to plan a fair bit in advance and/or make do with what I have, because the nearest specialty stores, including TJ’s, are over two hours away, so we stock up (or, um, my dad goes shopping for me, it’s on the way to my house from theirs) a few times a year.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Why the world corruption index? (And how did you pick the order?)

      My DH actually made bread before I did. He had a bread maker in college and then in graduate school he found breadmaking to be relaxing so he made all the different bread recipes from my The Old Fashioned Cookbook.

  8. SP Says:

    I did it with a few cook books, blogs, internet recipes, and by just doing it. I’m kind of a fussy eater in that I don’t like bland stuff and I can’t eat the same thing over and over and over. So learning to cook and meal plan was a must. I like trying new things, which is much more fun when budget isn’t a huge constraint.

    But, when life gets busy/crazy, we sometimes default to avocado toast, cheese and crackers, or cereal for dinner. So I’m not the right person to give any tips on this. I guess having a backup no-cook option is nice, even if it isn’t the best in terms of balance.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      How old were you when you learned/ at what stage of life?

      • SP Says:

        not until after college when I had more free time. In college I cooked basic stuff. I didn’t go out to eat much, but I also wasn’t as fussy about food. I would occasionally cook something bigger in college, but not on a regular basis.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Cooking basic stuff is a skill!

        It’s kind of like the all important step of learning how to float in swimming.

      • SP Says:

        It is a skill, but my basic stuff was likely not healthy/balanced. I’m honestly trying to remember what I ate in college, because I don’t recall cooking a lot nor do I recall eating out a lot. I didn’t eat fast food much, or have a meal plan after the first year. I think I must just not have been very interested in food, so I don’t remember much. I remember easy mac, spaghetti, but there must have been more than that!

        I do have a vivid memory of being in the store an buying a can opener (mine had broke). I picked the very cheapest one, the crappy kind that didn’t have a very good handle to grip. My boyfriend talked me out of it, convincing me that the extra dollar or two to get a normal one was worth it since it would be much easier to use and I’d probably have it a long time. It struck me, because I’d been brought up to always just get the cheapest thing that will do the job. But he was right.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My DH didn’t know how to boil pasta or fry an egg when we got married.

        Yes on quality can openers! I have made that mistake before.

  9. xykademiqz Says:

    I cooked a little when I was a teen at home, but it was simple stuff (e.g., pan-roast this chunk of meat, pan-fry potatoes; oven was very expensive to turn on, so we barely ever used it when I was growing up, only for baking, maybe once a week). My childhood BFF cooked regularly for her family since freshman year of high school; it was considered proper training for when she is a mom. I did get scolded occasionally by aunts and grandmas for not showing more interest in cooking.

    Then I lived with a guy near the end of college/a little after college, and I started cooking daily for us then. My then boyfriend and I did weekly farmers’ market runs, the rest at the grocery store on the same block. I would ask mom for recipes and go by that. I went quickly from not cooking much to cooking basically anything you want. My then boyfriend could also cook a little.

    My eldest son shows little interest in cooking, but can make (and bake) a few cakelike savory dishes and he will bake frozen lasagna for the family (since he’s the first one home). IMHO, if the kid is interested, there is certainly no harm in getting them started with cooking early. But if the kid isn’t, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to start early. Home cooking is not rocket science (we’re not talking becoming a chef at a five-star restaurant) and one can learn to cook later when one becomes more independent and is properly motivated (e.g., you really crave a favorite from childhood, but ancestral home is 2,000 miles away).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      “But if the kid isn’t, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to start early.”

      Except in the way that it takes some of the chore load off the parents!

      Though truly, the ability to cook can make a huge difference to financial security for low-income kids just starting out, whether that be upwardly mobile folks in graduate school (like us) or teenage high school graduates with a new baby.

  10. chacha1 Says:

    I also grew up doing kitchen prep, cleanup, and minor cooking tasks alongside my Mom. My sister got some of the same skills but it was a small kitchen and I enjoyed it more, so it ended up being mostly me while I was living at home. I was the designated baker and sauce-maker, except for French bread – Mom made that and I never did learn how.

    We grew up eating, basically, from the Navy cookbook. I asked Mom if she realized her go-to recipes were all in the Navy cookbook (which I found out when DH and I toured the USS Midway!) and she had no recollection. That was pretty funny though. Anyway, it was not a rich household so the preparations were generally cheap cut of meat + starch + vegetable. Scalloped potatoes with ham, and peas on the side – that kind of thing. Chili with fresh bread. Spaghetti. Dried beef and gravy on biscuits with peas. But also, my Mom worked full time for most of my adolescence and she was no more of a fan of spending hours in the kitchen than I am. So there was not a lot of experimentation, and complex recipes were disregarded.

    Now I don’t bake except for the very occasional pan of brownies, and I try not to use the oven at all, because it is always effing hot here and it takes so long (our oven can take up to 40 minutes to reach the desired temperature).

    I learned a broader range of cooking skills after leaving a bad job (and taking a voluntary 30% pay cut) which necessitated reining in the food budget. This was at age 42-ish. Learned how to do a lot more things with vegetables, even though those are not super efficient – more prep time, and we are not vegetarians so there was always a protein component. I would say I am a good cook, though it’s not something I really enjoy.

  11. Cloud Says:

    Wow, I thought this would be an easy question to answer, but I find I don’t really know! My mom taught me how to cook and bake. I got interested in baking as a tween/teen and taught myself a lot more, probably with some input from my grandmother who was an excellent baker, but I don’t actually remember any lessons. Maybe she just gave me occasional advice? I do remember baking cookies with her a few times.

    As for the comparison shopping/meal planning/all that… I think I just watched my mom do it. I remember going grocery shopping with her sometimes, and particularly when I was in grade school, we had a limited budget.

    I did some cooking in college (my dorm didn’t have a cafeteria, and wasn’t particularly close to one that did, but it did have a kitchen… so a lot of us had lunch only meal plans and made our own dinners). I cooked a lot in grad school, and even did frugal things like make my own red sauce and granola and things like that. I assume I did those things because my mom had somehow taught me how, but I honestly can’t remember.

    This has made me think about how I’ll teach my kids. I don’t worry about money at all when I’m menu planning. I don’t clip coupons and I don’t shop sales. My shopping decisions are driven by convenience, taste, and health. I suppose I should figure out how to prepare my kids for the time when they’ll need to think about cost, too.

    Also, while both kids have shown some interest in baking with me, neither is particularly interested in learning how to cook yet. This is probably because I like baking, so that is something fun to do together, but I treat cooking as a chore, so they don’t see it as something they’d want to do. They’re certainly old enough to start learning some things though. Hmmmm.

    I hope your DH’s relative recovers well, and that her kids figure out the shopping/cooking thing and keep helping out.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Maybe they’ll never need to worry about cost? My sister got an engineering job straight out of college and didn’t have to cook.

      This whole, “children of the upper middle class” thing is pretty new to me. Still, I would like them to have the freedom to not go straight into a lucrative career if they don’t want to. (And we’re not really independently wealthy enough to just straight-up finance their lifestyles when they’re adults. No living on trust fund dividends for them!)

    • chacha1 Says:

      I absorbed the “comparison shopping” thing by osmosis. It was useful when I was broke. :-)

      Am quite sure that my mom’s attitude toward cooking (we must eat, so I cook) was transferred more or less directly into my brain. It is interesting to consider what my own attitude would have been had our home cooking been framed as “something fun to do together” and not just another chore.

      That said … Christmas cookies, birthday cakes/pies, and other consumable gifts. Those were always fun. :-)

      If I were trying to teach a child/adolescent: for little kids it has to be about fun + skill acquisition, because in my observation kids love knowing how to do stuff, especially if it impresses adults. For adolescents who have “wants” that cost money, showing how home cooking can free up money for the other things they want is probably the way to go. I can’t imagine a life that is NEVER cost-conscious.

  12. MSWR Says:

    I learned to cook a little before leaving home (scrambled eggs, mostly), then a little more in college (how to follow a recipe), but I didn’t really get going with my cooking knowledge until I moved into my own house with my then-boyfriend-now-hubs. Two things really ratcheted up my skill level in the kitchen: 1. I made a New Year’s resolution to make a new recipe every week (ended up being mostly recipes I found online) 2. taking a hands-on knife-skills class at a local fancy grocery store. One website I really liked back when it was active was – lots of ideas and good content for those on a budget.

    Something that has helped me a lot with meal planning has been the Knock Knock line of notepads, specifically their “All Out Of” and “What to Eat” notepads. I only use one sheet per week of each, and since they come with about 60 sheets each, they last more than a year. I sit down with those notepads and my planner and calendar to figure out which nights need to be leftovers or something simple like breakfast-for-dinner, I look at what we have in the pantry and freezer, and I create the dinner plan for the week along with the grocery list for the week. If I were really on top of things, I could also check out the store circular to see what’s on sale and plan meals around that, but I’ve never been that organized.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Scrambled eggs was one of my firsts and dc1’s first as well. Good stuff.

      DH’s cooking class was worth every penny. Knife skills are valuable!

      We use the backs of envelopes that we magnet to the fridge for our two lists.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I know I learned to make an omelet at a pretty early age. I liked it with American cheese inside, and strawberry jam on top. How’s that for gross kid food!?

  13. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I knew how to cook rice at such a young age I can’t really remember the first lessons. Age 6, maybe? I knew how to make eggs and tea and coffee, but the latter two were useless to me since I didn’t drink either, around that age as well.

    Basically I could fry just about anything that fit in a small pan and then I learned to bake just by following box directions because I wanted to learn cake decorating when I was 11 or 12. Nothing fancy. Just sheet cakes. We always had to go with Mom to grocery shop so we always knew that if you wanted to make something specific, you had to pick up the necessary ingredients so that part was relatively easy. We also did holiday food prep: lots of cutting up of foods, arranging on trays, or making specialty desserts that are always eaten on Lunar New Year. I can’t remember most of those recipes anymore, which is a darn shame.

    Other than that, I didn’t really know how to cook meals until I was much older because I started working full time at 17 and Dad took over in the kitchen from Mom, and wouldn’t let me do any cooking while I was working and schooling full time. I discovered that I actually LIKE cooking when I moved in with PiC.

  14. Debbie M Says:

    I had a boyfriend once who was trying to learn how to cook. Let me just say that recipes use have a vocabulary that you won’t know if you haven’t been cooking and there are a LOT of assumptions in recipes that people who don’t know how to cook will miss. For example, he would read a recipe and think, “I have to go buy a food processor” and then actually go buy it. He did not know that he didn’t need a food processor for that recipe.

    And cooking shows are little better. You don’t have spices pre-measured sitting in little cups. And again, you don’t need all the fancy equipment.

    I highly recommend some sort of internship/mentor system. I recommend they find neighbors that will let someone from this household accompany them while they menu plan, shop, cook, etc. If they already know someone who makes something they know they already like, they can ask that person for tips (aunts, grandparents, neighbors, friends’ parents). They can also look for recipes the mom uses–does she have a card file or notebook they can look through, or is there just a huge bookcase of cookbooks. Hint: when books open automatically to a page, especially if that page has some drips on it, that might be a recipe for something they’ve eaten before.

    But to answer your question, I accompanied my mom shopping, learned cooking while camping with the Girl Scouts, and then got a few more tips when I took home ec, when my mom helped me learn the cooking badge (she really didn’t want us “helping” in the kitchen), and from various roommates over the years. Also, TV dinners and things have instructions on them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That is so true. Also a reason I like the Help! Book– it doesn’t assume basic knowledge.

      I think the two oldest girls did apprentice with mom, but because of various things they are not available to help. Similarly there’s related family drama keeping their grandma from helping. Neighbors is unlikely to happen– one of their neighbors regularly steals their packages. DH’s immediate family in the area both makes more money and doesn’t cook much.

      Money makes everything so much easier.

  15. kt Says:

    Very graduated. Almost always accompanied mom to grocery store on Saturday mornings as no other childcare (dad had something else he did Saturday mornings). When we got old enough, mom would have things ready in the fridge for us to put into the oven or take out to thaw or whatever — we’d call her from home when we arrived after school and she’d tell us what to do, then finish the other stuff when she got home at 5. When we were a bit older yet, there would be food prep tasks after school that involved knife skills or the stove. Each of us 3 kids started developing some particular competency based on desire — I remember my brother wanted salmon so he learned how to bake salmon. Eventually I started reading my mom’s old Food&Wine magazines and upgraded some of those skills.

    College: moved from Midwest to SoCal, and learned tons-tons-tons from friends of different backgrounds (Japanese-Am, Hawaiian, Filipino-Am, Irish-Am, Texan-Am) and from the surroundings (Mexican food not covered in cheddar cheese! Dim sum! Persian food! Sushi!). I did teach some Asian-American friends how to cook rice without a rice cooker. Don’t know why their parents stranded them freshman year without a rice cooker, but as a Midwestern white kid I could come to the rescue. On the other hand, in SoCal I also learned there were different kinds of rice (memorable evening: the great jasmine vs basmati debate). I also learned from some friends who’d had more financially strapped childhoods how to comparison shop better, how to tell if food was spoiled or salvageable, how to walk to the “ethnic” aisle in the grocery store to check if sweetened condensed milk was 30 cents cheaper per container, etc.

  16. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    Like many others here, I learned by osmosis, going to the store with my mom, hanging out in the kitchen while she cooked. My dad was a cook in the Navy, so we had no sense that cooking was a one-sex activity. By the age of 8 or 10, all of us could make a very basic dinner: mashed potatoes (from a mix), with tuna gravy (open a can of tuna and a can of mushroom soup, mix together and heat), and frozen peas. I think one of my brothers didn’t get much farther than that till he was married, but the other one and I both learned to cook and bake by watching our mother and then trying things on our own. My parents did a lot of coupon-clipping and comparison shopping, but I’m not sure that my mother did any menu-planning, or only sporadically. I remember her asking anyone in the house, from mid-afternoon on, “What should we have for dinner tonight?” Somewhere in my mid-teens, I remember bargaining with her that if she made bread on a Saturday, I’d do the cleaning. By my late teens, somehow I was doing all the cleaning AND making the bread.

    I don’t know how often I actually cooked dinner at home, but when I moved out I just carried on making the same sort of meals we’d had at home (salad, casserole-type main dish that would last me for a few days, one or two veg). It took me awhile to realize that I could move to one-dish meals, or make meal-size salads, or (my favorite change) have hot soup instead of cold salad in cold weather. I get tired of cooking but it rarely occurs to me that I don’t have to, because it’s just so ingrained! I definitely get more prepared foods and ingredients than we had growing up. Your post awhile back about how it’s a lot cheaper to get the convenient stuff from places like TJ’s than to go out really got my attention. I tend to feel that I “should” just cook from scratch, but there is this middle ground that I am happy to occupy now that it has occurred to me that I can.

  17. moom Says:

    The first cooking I did was when going cycletouring and staying in youth hostels when I was in high school. Just bought things and cooked them… My mom didn’t like us being in the kitchen growing up much as it was so small. So, I don’t really know where I learned to cook, just trying stuff. Almost never have followed a recipe except to make cakes a couple of times. Now I don’t really cook as my wife didn’t appreciate the food I made except for those cakes.

  18. J Liedl Says:

    I’ve taught both my girls how to comparison shop and stockpile moderately. They’ve both learned to cook at home with either parent helping as needed: Eldest is pretty much living on her own these days while Autistic Youngest acts as my sous-chef with occasional forays in doing it all herself.

    Everybody should know how to feed people and how to procure foodstuff without going broke. Neither are intuitive skills!

  19. Linda Says:

    Sister and I used to go shopping with Mom every week, so I’m thinking we learned about comparison shopping that way. I do recall that once I moved out Mom was trying to explain to me that I should look at the sales papers, make a list, and go to multiple stores to get the best deals. I told her that just wasn’t going to happen since I had to walk or take public transit to the store and wasn’t going to use my entire day moving around town to get the best deal on canned veggies. (The town where I grew up had an intersection with three of the four corners occupied by different grocery stores. Mom didn’t seem to realize that not all towns were laid out that way.)

    Grandma was the traditional cook who baked bread, soups, and made a big roast every Sunday. Mom made many meals with ground beef and we had Hamburger Helper skillet meals on a regular basis, as well as one pot meals made with Minute Rice and hamburger. I don’t recall doing much meal prep before I moved out on my own, but once I did I started cooking dramatically differently than Mom. I liked to explore different cuisines and once I got my first apartment in a neighborhood with lots of interesting ethnic markets I made good use of them. I used to watch cooking shows on PBS and get cookbooks at the library. I made my own cookbook of recipes I photocopied from library books and pasted into a spiral notebook.

    Freeing myself from my Midwestern protein/starch/veg pattern for meals has made a difference for me. I hope your relatives are experimental that way. When I first moved out on my own I’m not sure I would have felt confident cooking eggs for dinner, for example, like I will sometimes do now. These days I minimize the amount of starchy stuff I eat and eat mainly veg and protein at every meal; that’s very different than what I learned growing up. (Well, when I’m not forced to eat starchy crap due to recurrent diverticulitis, that is.)

  20. Practical Parsimony Says:

    When I was a teen and younger, my mother would call me to the kitchen to help her. She would tell me to stir this or that and made sure it did not scorch. She would tell me to chop things and put in the pan or pot. I did learn to bake from scratch and by myself.

    When I went to school, four girls lived in a regular house. We cooked together. Well, two took our money and cooked as they pleased and what they pleased. I actually knew more than they did and had to give them advice when something did not taste right or they screwed up.

    When I married, I called Mama to ask her how to cook most things. She was shocked because she said I had cooked it for years at home. The problem was I did not know how to start anything. I just knew what to do after it was going on the stove. I had a grocery budget of $5 (1966) when I married. Since I knew how to shop and got better at it, I was able to feed us without resorting to rice and beans.

    It seems like that now shopping for bargains is easier than then because of store’s ads and farmer’s markets I frequent.

    Do they have a crockpot? I do and the cookbook which is useless. They can cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts bought for less than $2 lb and use those for dinners or sandwiches. Or, they can learn to cook one-dish, delicious meals. I even thaw slabs of ground meat in the crockpot before using it to prepare a meal. One pot meals can be eaten the same week if not the day after. For that many people, I would recommend a larger crockpot. I have a 7.5 qt and a 3 qt crockpot.

    I really like salads, so the chicken can be used all week long. Plus, it can be the basis for hot meals. Yesterday, I put boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the crockpot. When it was done, I removed it and put in new potatoes and carrots. The meat and vegetable will be eaten twice as a meal and then used separately for other meals.

    I do cook whole chickens in the crockpot. One night, I put in a frozen chunk of ground sirloin. The next day, it occurred to me that slicing it off would be a good way to eat a hamburger. I have only had a crockpot for two years and it was scary learning to use it.

    Someone might suggest their planting salad greens in pots indoors.

    When Mama was in the hospital for a week, I decided to cook dinner. Daddy like what Daddy liked, so I decided to make gravy. I used a bit of oil and about a cup of flour. Disaster! I scraped it out behind the chicken yard, fearing Daddy would be mad. Since I did not like to peel potatoes, I just washed and sliced them with te skin on. Mama told me years later that Daddy said, “Damn, she just fried the potatoes with the skin on.” That was after I confessed to dumping the gravy disaster.

    Cooking is incredibly easy with a few directions. Cooking everyday food instead of fancy things should be easy with guidance.

  21. eemusings Says:

    Never really did. Used to take pride in that in some weird way I thought was feminist at the time.

    My mother wasn’t an amazing cook (not something people ever say!) and I never really learned. My fave food blog is Stonesoup for its simplicity. I’m more of a Rachael Ray/Jamie Oliver gal. I have some cookbooks and mags (and a collection of online bookmarked recipes withering away) that I never refer to. T is an amazing cook, learned from his grandma and from TV.

    Only recently learned the importance of salt. Mum would often ask me as a kid if dishes were salty enough. I just didn’t know! Only in the past couple of years have I learned the difference it makes.

    What’s changed my food world is travelling. Italy was the single most defining food experience of my life. Taught me so much about flavours, ingredients.

  22. First Gen American Says:

    A few sources come to mind:

    -the restaurants I worked in
    -being buried by an over abundance of garden fruit and veg and needing to do something with it.
    -not liking most of my moms cooking and wanting to be in control of what was in the house to eat.

    We didn’t have a car once my dad left so I usually was the one grocery shopping and I would buy what I could carry. It was about a half hour walk to the furthest place I went which was the meat/veg market. The bakery was closer and on my moms way back from work.

    My mom always made everything from scratch but I hated her pork laden fried fatty meals. She did make some really good dishes too but those were much more labor intensive. it was much easier to fry a schnitzel during the week. she is a great cook but her lack of meat/fat as a child made her overuse both items once she had the money to buy them.

  23. Donna Freedman Says:

    My sisters and I (brother got a pass, naturally) learned to cook by watching our mom and other female relatives. As soon as we could peel potatoes we were handed knives. As soon as we could cook, we were encouraged to do so.

    When the eldest in the family was 11, we started coming home from school by ourselves vs. going to a neighbor lady’s house. We were supposed to start dinner, if not have it ready by the time our parents came home.

    I know that when I was 11 myself I was doing dinner for six; before that I’d been the sous chef while older sisters were in charge. At age 14, a “split schedule” for school meant I was home by 1:45 p.m. and therefore tasked with doing ALL the cooking.

    At age 16 my parents separated and (again, naturally) it fell to me, the only female in the household, to do all the cooking and shopping (and shopping and laundry and food preservation). Sigh. But it was a good thing to know once I was on my own a couple of years later.

    If your relatives kids are in their teens they are totally capable of cooking. They didn’t know how to sign onto the Internet or text a friend until they learned how, either.

    Best wishes for a positive outcome for the mom and the whole family.

  24. Random life updates | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] of the baby while her step-daughter works at the Walmart a few towns over.  I have no idea how the menu planning stuff went down or if now that the oldest girl is back she’s taken over some of the […]

  25. Matthew Healy Says:

    I learned in grad school. Before that I had enough money to mostly eat out. One of my biggest grad school discoveries was that making a large pot of soup didn’t take much longer than making a small pot. So I’d make a big pot of “random veggies and chicken with even more random seasonings” soup and put it into a number of jars that had previously contained applesauce or whatever. Put the soup in hot, screw on the lid, let cool outside fridge for a few hours then pop into fridge. Keeps for quite awhile that way and easy to microwave a jar when wanted.

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