Rethinking Convenience with Home Cooked Meals

by Laura on February 18, 2014

in Blog


Recently, I watched an RSA Short, “How Cooking Can Change Your Life,” and much of what was presented in short film struck a chord with me, as it touched on the key concept of Planning, the first of the Family Eats Four Pillars.

Within the film, the narrator, Michael Pollan, stated: “What mattered most about one’s health was not necessarily the nutrients, good or bad, that you were consuming (or even the calorie count), but what predicted a healthy diet was the fact that is was being cooked by a human being and not a corporation.”

He added, “Corporations cook very differently than humans do – vast amounts of salt, fat, and sugar — more than anyone would use at home.” They cook using cheap ingredients, that when layered together can create incredibly addictive foods, such as chips, pastries or other forms of junk food.

It is no secret that corporations cook things differently than we do at home, and as Pollan reminds us, they cook things that if we make them ourselves, it will take considerable amount of time (think French fries). And, if we decided to make them ourselves, we wouldn’t eat them as frequently, because it is labor and time intensive to do so.

And, as Pollan says “When you let corporations cook for you it’s so simple, inexpensive, and they are really good.” So good that you will have them twice a day. In the end, these labor intensive convenience foods – often special occasion foods, become everyday foods when we let the corporations cook them for us.

He ends with the words of wisdom: Eat anything you want, just cook it yourself.

Breaking the Convenience Habit

Tostada350The post World War II era began the practice of big companies breeding into us the idea the idea that convenience is the only way to go. The idea that you shouldn’t – or rather you don’t have to – spend more than a few minutes thinking about, buying, or eating your food. Playing to our emotions, they remind us that we’re busy, therefore we shouldn’t think about making dinner, because they will do it for us.

They’re pushing the idea that food must be quick, convenient and oftentimes eaten on the go, so we can get to all those ‘things’ we need to do (soccer practice, watching television, etc.). And, this idea of convenience foods factors into all meals – from breakfast cereals, to microwave meals, to a bag of chips, and even fast-food drive-thrus.

I don’t deny that I’ve succumbed to convenience. I’ve turned to the occasional In ‘N Out Burger when I just don’t want to cook, and I’ve caved in to the kids’ begging to buy the power/energy bars, crackers – or, a bag of chips – for an afternoon snack. And yes, I can often be found grumbling to myself at the thought of heading back into the kitchen and preparing a meal for what seems like the millionth time for the week. But that is because convenience foods are not a huge part of our lives.

Mindless Foods

I call them mindless foods – foods that don’t require much thought to purchase. Foods that don’t take much thought to prepare. Foods that don’t take much thought to eat. These foods are convenient.

We’ re not saying ditch everything convenient, because we know there is value to choosing something because it is convenient. But, what we are saying is that perhaps we rely too much on convenience, and less on the value of home-cooked meals.

Instead of chips and crackers, we serve fruit, homemade muffins, and yogurt. Instead of opting for the drive-thru, we choose to plan our meals – cooking and eating them together almost every night.

It’s time to redefine convenience, and remind ourselves that food should be at the center of our lives. Be mindful of the importance of home cooking, and take the time to do a bit of Planning.

Planning for Success 

MenuPlanning450As I do most days, I tiptoe into the kitchen early in the morning, bake a quick batch of muffins or scones for the kids’ school snack, begin packing lunches, and eventually rub elbows with my husband as he helps get breakfast on the table.

This ritual dance is performed several times a day, as I prepare lunch, snacks, and dinner for the family. Through it all, what I find makes things go a bit more smoothly is Planning.For when I plan, the temptation of convenience is redefined.

Do you feel as if you’re relying too much on convenience foods these days? Or, are you not sure if you do? First, go through your kitchen and make a list of the convenience foods in your home. Then decide which of those ‘convenience foods’ you would like to lesson your dependence upon. For instance, keep the frozen vegetables, but loose a bag of chips.

Next, track the number  of times you choose convenience foods – or to eat out/takeout instead of preparing – throughout the week. You just might be surprised as to how many times you really do choose convenience foods throughout the week.

Once you make the decision to redefined convenience.

The Planning Stage

Plan Your Pantry: Assess what you have in your pantry, and decide which foods to keep, and what to get rid of. Then make a list of which foods you need more of in the pantry from rice, olive oil, and quinoa to flour, dried fruits, and beans.

Plan Your Meals & Snacks: Go ahead, try planning your meals for a week – You don’t need to go cold turkey and ditch a take-out or two. MOnday may be a chicken dish, and Tuesday, which might be a usy evening for all, might require a take-out. However your week plays out, make sure you have planned the meals agead of time.

Plan your Shopping: Make a list of what you will need at the store to get you through the week – for meals and snacks. Sure, you will  probably end up heading to the store again at some point during the week, but if you make a list and plan your shopping, chances are you’ll have what you need to prepare meals on hand.

Plan to Eat Dinner with the Family: Choose a night or two during the week when the family will get around the table together.


Enjoy your week of Planning.

* The RSA is a non-profit organization working to meet 21st century challenges by showcasing ideas, undertaking innovative research and building civic capacity around the world.




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