I have written previously about cooking from scratch, highlighting its decline and noting its importance in stretching food dollars. Now I would like to share a my vision for the promotion of cooking from scratch, particularly among those who are food insecure. I have tried to tailor my solutions to what will most likely work within my community. I currently have two ideas for promoting cooking from scratch. One is relatively simple. The other one will be a bit more difficult to implement, but definitely possible.
Often people are hesitant to cook something new because they do not know how to prepare it. I have heard anecdotal stories about the difficulty of trying to get food pantry clients to take kale when it was offered last year. Many people were hesitant to take it because they had never eaten it or prepared it. They didn’t know what to do with it. The easiest step to take to encourage people to cook something with which they are unfamiliar or in a method with which they are unaccustomed, is to provide them with a detailed recipe. These recipes would work for fresh produce and larger meat options like a whole chicken. I envision them being written in more detail than the typical recipe to accommodate the person who has little experience cooking from scratch. The recipes would also have a minimal ingredient list or at least include inexpensive and/or easily obtained ingredients. In addition to offering the recipe, actually having a sample of the finished product on hand for people to try might further encourage them to take the new food item and try it themselves.
Expanding on the idea of providing a recipe, I would like to facilitate a partnership between the food pantry and another entity, like a grocery store or farmer, that would donate one more item needed for the recipe. For instance, if a recipe for baked chicken was provided to anyone who took a whole chicken, partnering with someone who would provide the needed fresh herbs, lemons or heads of garlic, depending on what was needed for the recipe, would be ideal. The lemon, herbs or garlic would only be available to those clients who took the chicken. I see a similar paring with those items and various types of produce or cinnamon and a container of oats, but I am sure there are many more parings to be made.
The next obvious step to promote cooking from scratch is to demonstrate to people how to cook by offering cooking classes. This undertaking will be more difficult in my community as the two pantries I am familiar with do not have kitchens. To offer these classes these pantries would have to partner with local organizations that do have kitchens, like a church, fire hall or municipal building. These classes would focus on cooking from scratch with whole ingredients and teach a variety of skills, like how to get the most from the ingredients on hand, budgeting and shopping and healthy cooking.
The ingredients used in the recipes for these classes would either be things people might already have on hand, distributed by the food pantry or inexpensively obtained at a local grocery store. The classes would include a cooking demonstration as well as nutritional information and cooking tips and shortcuts when applicable. I would also like to see informational classes that did not necessarily involve a cooking demonstration provided as well. These classes would cover topics like the importance healthy eating and how to achieve it, meal planning and creating a shopping list, and strategies for stretching your food dollars.
I am not reinventing the wheel here. Emergency food providers across the country are already doing most of this and more. Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit working to end child hunger in America, has a program called Cooking Matters. Through this program parents, caregivers and children learn about cooking, budgeting and decision making food skills to get the most out of their food dollars. Many larger food banks across the United States offer Cooking Matters programs through their facilities. Additionally, other large food banks have developed their own programs, as is the case with the Food Bank of Delaware. Their program does not have a cooking class component, but it does offer informational classes to low income participants on some of the topics outlined above.
As I go forward on my journey I will endeavor to advance these ideas in my community. The first area on which I will focus my efforts will be compiling recipes to be distributed. In addition to recipes provided by food panty staff and volunteers, I hope to encourage those clients who do cook to share their recipes to be included in this undertaking as well. As I gather recipes, I will share some here and I encourage those of you who like to cook to share your favorite recipes. Provided they meet the criteria stated above, I will gladly share them with food pantry clients.
Some “food for thought” – another challenge I find in cooking from scratch is time. My parents both worked and my mom didn’t have time to cook a lot from scratch because by the time she walked in the door, us kids were hungry and we didn’t want to wait the hour+ it took to make a meal from scratch. Personally, I’ve found slow cooker recipes to be very helpful for things like “baked chicken” (well, it’s not really “baked”, but it tastes the same), and stew.
I have a book called “Once a Month Cooking” that was also helpful to me because it taught me how to make a lot of meals at once that use similar ingredients (so that whole head of celery I bought was all used up, instead of only one or two stalks and the rest possibly not getting eaten) and could be frozen, then cooked quickly throughout the week. It saved time and money. It was one very long Sunday of cooking, and the most I ever did was two weeks worth of meals at a time, but it was very helpful. Hey, schedules are so busy this time of year that I bet I could use that cookbook now! I’ll have to pull that cookbook out!
Lack of time is definitely a challenge when cooking from scratch. I agree that slow cookers are a big help and will keep that in mind when compiling recipes. I do wonder how many people using a food pantry have a slow cooker, but there is no harm in including the recipes and mentioning the benefits of using one. I bought my first crockpot at Goodwill for $5.00!
I will have to take a look at the cookbook you mentioned. While I do not cook like that on such a large scale, I will prep meals on the weekend if my week is busy or cook something to be used another day if I have an easy meal planned one night. I do like the idea that you can use one ingredient, like celery, in several meals to avoid waste and save money. Celery and parsley often get pitched at my house.
Thanks for reading and for providing helpful comments!
I think your suggestions are a great start. I’ve taken a couple of cooking classes before and one of the things I struggled with was translating how I prepared things in class to the equipment/space I was working with at home. What about offering people in-home cooking lessons? That way they learn in the environment where they have to cook after class. I know if wouldn’t appeal to some people since having an “outsider” in your home is a very personal comfort level thing, but it might appeal to some folks. It could also give you ideas of equipment people commonly need and provide an opportunity for a restaurant supplier to donate the equipment.
Meg, thanks for your suggestion. It is an interesting idea and one worth considering. I agree that it wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but when you are trying to reach the most people, all options should be on the table. Your suggestion about partnering with a restaurant supplier it a good idea too. My ultimate goal is to start a non-profit that is able to fill some of the gaps that exist in the current assistance provided to the food insecure. Crockpots were already one item I was thinking about, but maybe I should be thinking even more basic, like a colander. Thanks for reading!