Food for thought

chopping carrots

Recently, I have become a completely split personality when it comes to cooking. I am either on my game with creative meal planning and fairly well-balanced meals, “like mom used to make.”

Your mom, not my mom. My mom made hot dogs and frozen pot pies. Or, I am on the other end of the spectrum muttering, “participants are on their own for meals.” I blame Pinterest and various forms of Internet one-upmanship for this.

There was a time most families had tried and true recipes and meals. These were standards, whether old favorites or quickie meals, that could be counted on. Entire generations grew up on “mom’s meatloaf” and “grandma’s chicken soup.”

They might have picked up a few new recipes from a church cookbook, potluck or marrying into a new family, but on the whole, your recipes moved from trial and error to the tried and true the old fashioned way. You tried it at someone else’s table or heard from someone you trusted that your family would probably like it.


Then came Pinterest, Facebook sharing and a host of other ways to make us feel we just aren’t doing enough with quinoa these days. See also: Kale.

Suddenly, I am supposed to be doing amazing things with everything from canned beans to candy bars. For the record, I do not believe that crumbling candy into a container of whipped cream and spooning it on top of cookies baked into cake or brownie batter really constitutes a “good idea.”

I say this as someone who loves sweets with the same passion most reserve for oxygen and freedom. Still, layering things that are already store bought in increasingly high fructose ways and calling it dessert is just too much sometimes. That’s not to say I wouldn’t eat it. Pinterest is loaded with cute food.

Pinterest has me believing in theme meals. Fiesta night, Chinese buffet and even simple hot dogs are now supposed to be cut into shapes and served on little bun boats with tiny macaroni flotation devices. Hamburgers are stuffed not topped, and kale has snuck it’s way into everything. I have cupboards and a pantry full of exotic ingredients, quinoa, and artisan olive oils, spices and rubs purchased in order to use one teaspoon or less.

Then we eat takeout because our schedules don’t allow for hours of meal making merriment.


I think we need to return to my grandmother’s days and ways. If nothing else, she always had a “hunk of meat” in a roaster on low all day. Toss in some vegetables — carrots, potatoes and onions — and call it good. A nice biscuit or bread rounded out the meal. She was also an amazing cook who could make meals like you imagine were served in heaven.

What she knew instinctively, however, is that something is better than nothing and sometimes a hunk of meat, a vegetable and a starch would just have to do. On that note, my gram saved bacon grease, so I do, too. I think it’s a rule. I think I was supposed to save it for cooking? Or to help the Allies win the war? Whatever the reason, little went to waste in her kitchen. Soft apples became cobbler and pie. Brown bananas were banana bread.

Cook once and eat all week is not a new invention. A roast with vegetables was the staple of almost every Sunday meal. Anything left over became beef stew.

My own mother knew the benefit of a good taco night. It takes less than 20 minutes to go from raw meat to tacos if you have the basic ingredients on hand. I may not serve homemade refried beans, hand pounded tortillas and authentic Spanish rice, but you will be fed.

I am over the idea that everything has to resemble five-star cooking. Sometimes, in order to get food on the table (if that) and more importantly, into the bellies, we have to work with what we have.

In my house the kitchen is always open. Sometimes (rarely) it’s a five-star establishment.
We may cook with exotic spices and wine (for both the entree and the cook). Other times it’s a bit more Mom’s Diner. Hearty home cooking served with biscuits and milk. Sometimes it’s a drive-through. Hot dogs and fries have their place in an otherwise healthy diet, too.

I’m still going to peruse Pinterest and pin 101 ways to prepare quinoa and kale. I just think we could use a little more practical meal prep magic these days too.

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