05 Dec 2015
I cook from scratch. I used to do it a lot more, but now my days seem to be filled with writing about what I should be doing. Nonetheless, I still do quite a lot of actual cooking. We sure aren’t eating our meals in restaurants or from takeout boxes.
Cooking from scratch is one of those immensely useful skills because everyone, simply everyone, has to eat! Two or three times a day, every day, 365 days per year. There is no escaping the demands of the body. The stomach, like the bladder and bowels, makes slaves of us all.It is totally worth learning to cook as this skill adds another layer of resiliency to your life and saves you money and time to boot. Unless you’re preparing elaborate gourmet meals, something quick from your kitchen will always cost less and take less time than going out. Even driving back and forth to McDonald’s takes time.
Does a meal cost less per person and take less time than driving to the local chain store, waiting in line, and driving home? Let’s use McDonald’s as a measuring device. We aren’t going to address health issues here; it’s pretty darn hard to make a saltier, greasier meal with more questionable ingredients than McD’s and they’re not bad. There are worse places than them.
So here we are in the McD’s drive-through. Getting one of their lower cost value meals, you’ll spend about $5 per person. Get five of them and you’ve spent $25 plus (for me) about 40 minutes. That’s how long it takes to find shoes, find cash, walk out the door, drive to McD’s, wait in line, get my order, drive home, and unpack the now-cold food so the piranhas can attack it.
There will be no leftovers for tomorrow’s lunches or dinner.
I spend about $150 a week on groceries for a household of five, all over 15. We don’t eat out, so $150 represents all my food purchases, plus health items, beauty products, cleaning supplies and paper goods along with animal chow for my 45 lb. dog (hi Muffy!) and our two useless cats.
Assuming I spend $25 a trip, McD’s will let me purchase six meals IN TOTAL for my family for the same amount of money. I will have no leftovers for lunches, no animal chow, and no other necessaries. Doesn’t seem like such a bargain now, is it?
How can I spend so little? I’m very, very careful in how I shop. I wrote a six-part essay about how to save money at the grocery store and if you start here finely crafted link you can read it before continuing on here.
I’m also able to spend so little money because I have a well-organized pantry and kitchen. I keep lists, and I don’t buy what we don’t eat. I use up food. We eat our leftovers. I store things properly and I don’t sweat expiration dates. I have a fully equipped kitchen with a stove, fridge, sink, countertops, pots, and pans. I have a large, stuffed pantry with all kinds of ingredients. I have a full spice drawer. Spices are expensive so I store mine correctly: cool, dry, and in the dark. They last a lot longer.
It’s much harder to save money on eating if you have to cook over a hotplate in a motel room or you have no food storage space or you’re kitchen is infested with roaches and pantry moths. I don’t have those problems. Even so, some of those issues can be worked around, depending on what you choose to buy and cook.
Basic cooking will always cost less than eating out three times a day, seven days a week. Basic cooking tends to take less time, but not always. The question here is hands-on time versus ignore time. Food in a crock-pot takes hours to cook but once the meat and veg are in the crock-pot, you can ignore it and do something else.
Next, we have to define cooking from scratch. Is it when you grow your own wheat, mill it into flour, and bake your own bread? Is it buying King Arthur flour, and then making the bread? Is it buying bread and peanut butter and jelly and making PB&J sandwiches? Do you have to grow your own peanuts and grind them? Grow your own grapes and make them into jelly? From talking to my friends, it seems that no one criteria will satisfy everyone. At least it isn’t buying those dreadful Smuckers Uncrustable frozen sandwiches that come in the freezer case.
Which reminds me: I looked up the cost of a box of Smuckers Uncrustables. $7 for a box of 10 tiny sandwiches, 2 ounces each. That’s 70 cents apiece and those sandwiches are tiny. For the cost of two boxes ($14) I can easily buy bread (more than one loaf depending on size, type, and sale price), a big jar of peanut butter, and a jar of grape jelly. I will make more sandwiches, bigger and fresher, than what comes in the box, and they’re ready to eat. No need to defrost them.I mean really: How hard is it to make a PB&J sandwich? All you need is a flat surface and a plastic knife! And bread and peanut butter are reasonably shelf-stable. You can get several days from the bread and peanut butter lasts for weeks. Jelly needs a fridge, or at least a cold space. It comes in small, easy-to-use-up jars if you have to keep it opened in the cupboard. The Uncrustables require a freezer for storage. Besides, bread, peanut butter, and jelly can all be used in other ways besides the aforementioned PB&J sandwiches.
What other ways you ask? Bread can be toast, or made into croutons, or crumbs. Peanut butter is an ingredient as well, dropped into oatmeal or baked into cookies. Jelly goes on toast, into plain (cheap) yogurt or on top of oatmeal or pancakes. Use your imagination.
Uncrustables are a stellar example of the industrial-agricultural food complex’s need to sell you food that you could do better and cheaper yourself.
Next Week: What Is Scratch Cooking Anyway?