PARENTS

How To Start Cooking From Scratch (No Matter How Busy You Are)

21/09/2014 09:24 | Updated 20 May 2015

Family dinner, mother holding platter with roast on it

How often do you cook meals from scratch for you and your family to sit down and eat together?

a) Week nights

b) Weekends

c) Never

d) What is this 'cooking from scratch' you speak of?

If you answered a) Every night, is this because:

1) You don't have a job and/or kids?

2) You don't feed your kids until way past their bedtime?

3) You're a super-organised cross between Jamie Oliver and Kirstie Allsopp?

If you answered b) At weekends, is this because:

1) You have a butler/cleaner/housemaid to do all the chores you never get around to in the week?

2) You have no outside interests other than what happens within the walls of your home?

3) You value family time around the dinner table even above Super Sunday on Sky?

If you answered, c) Never...welcome to the Stressed-Out Parents Club.

You, my fellow bringer-up-of-sprogs, have nothing to feel guilty about.

For you are part of a national trend that has finally been recognised by scientific research which concluded that home cooking and family meal times are too stressful for millions of families to cope with – with working mums feeling the pressure most.

Researchers interviewed and observed at length 150 mums with kids between the ages of two and eight.

Dr Sinikka Elliott, a sociologist who co-authored the research at North Carolina State University, said: "We found that middle class, working class, and poor families faced some similar challenges.

"For example, mothers from all backgrounds reported difficulty in finding time to prepare meals that everyone in the family would be willing to eat.

"They also said they were torn between their desire to spend quality time with their children and the expectation that they needed to provide the children with a home-cooked meal."

Even for working mothers who get home by 6pm, trying to cook a meal while children are demanding attention and other chores is overwhelming (tell me about it!).

But even those mums who did pull out all the stops to create varied, home-cooked meals they were left frustrated by ungrateful picky eaters – and not just their kids, either: their husbands and partners often turned their noses up at the mums' culinary offerings.

In fact, they were just as much, if not more, of a problem than fussy children.

The researchers wrote: "We rarely observed a meal in which at least one family member didn't complain about the food they were served.

"Mothers who could afford to do so often wanted to try new recipes and diverse ingredients, but they knew that it would cause their families to reject the meals.

"Instead, they continued to make what was tried and true, even if they didn't like the food themselves."

Writing in the science journal Contexts, co-author Dr Sarah Bowen said: "This idea of a home-cooked meal is appealing, but it's unrealistic for a lot of families.

"We as a society need to develop creative solutions to support families and help share the work of providing kids with healthy meals."

Article continues after the video...

Healthy Children's Eating Tips

As a working-from-home housedad to three growing and permanently hungry children, aged 12, 10 and seven, whose hard-working mum doesn't get home before 7.30pm every night, I totally empathise with the findings of this research.

My kids – just like yours, I'm sure – are virtually chomping at the bit by the time they get home from their various after-school clubs at around 5pm each night.

They want feeding and they want feeding now, and woe betide if those blood sugar levels aren't restored via the medium of a super-fast injection of protein and carbs. They can't wait for their mum to get home from work.

Besides, their bedtime is just an hour after she walks through the door. So the notion of sitting down every night as a family is not only impractical, it's ludicrous.

So I feed them at 5.30pm, and when they've gone to bed, I cook for me and my wife and eat at around 9pm (by which time the pair of us could each eat a scabby horse on toast).

But despite the effort, the chore, the hassle, the stress, the bloody pain in the backside, every single morsel that goes into their mouths is cooked from scratch.

OK, I'm a housedad. I work from home. I am privileged to be able to take my children to school and pick them up at 3.30pm.

I have the kind of time-freedom that working-away-from-home parents can only dream of and there's no way I'd be able to pull it off if both my wife and I worked in offices with all that entails re: getting to and from those offices.

But as my kids get older, that time is getting squeezed. There are swimming lessons, football sessions, after-school cookery and coding clubs to take my sons to and fro. There are hockey, netball, cheerleading and rounders training sessions to collect my stepdaughter from.

There's homework to help with and nag about. There are uniforms to wash and iron, gym kits to lay out, book bags to inspect (because they never tell me anything).

Not to mention parents' evenings, class teas, play dates and that all-important one-on-one interaction that middle class parents simply must have with each and every one of his or her beloveds.

There don't seem to be enough hours in the day to nip to the gents, let alone time to cook from scratch, for two dinner sittings every evening. But I do it. I do it every single night, including weekends.

I do it because I think it's the single most important thing I can do for my children and my wife.

Of course, I could take shortcuts by giving my children and wife ready meals – but have you seen the amount of fat, sugar and salt in those things?

I'm not a foodie Nazi – I love a bacon sandwich and a sly sausage – but I want all of my family to have a balanced diet where I, not a money-making corporation, controls the amount of fat, sugar and salt they intake, and to influence how they get five-a-day into their bodies.

How? Even if you're the super-busiest person on the planet, it can be done. You just need to plan. I do this by having a staple set of 20 meals for my kids to choose from, then the week before, they choose what they fancy for the following week. (OK, this sounds a bit cult-ish, but we keep it flexible).

I then do an online shop for the ingredients for those meals and when everything arrives on a Saturday morning, I know I've got everything I need to feed them for the week. I do the same for me and my wife. Then I do some batch cooking – which the kids help me with, depending on their moods.

A kilogram pack of minced beef can be divvied up into four meals for the week. Half can be used to make a big pot of Bolognese sauce – made with minced beef, tinned tomatoes, garlic, onions, beef stock and a couple of tablespoons of fried Italian herbs – to make spag bol one night for the kids; then the same sauce becomes the base for chilli con carne (by adding chilli powder, kidney beans and mushrooms) for me and my wife.

I use the other half of the mince to make homemade burgers or spiced Indian koftas.

Chicken breasts are marinated in Teryaki sauce or natural Greek yogurt and Indian spices and left in the fridge for mid-week meals.

Then leftovers from Sunday's roast chicken, beef or lamb get mixed with Thai paste and coconut milk to make a delicious curry.

Other meals can be thrown together in a matter of minutes – as long as you've already planned ahead and bought the ingredients.

Stir-fries, with lots of crunchy, colourful veg and hoi sin or sweet chilli sauce, served in wraps are a doddle – and my children's favourite.

A simple veggie curry can be on the table in 20 minutes if you use good-quality shop-bought paste and a can of coconut milk.

And what parent could do without pasta? Cooked ahead of time and stirred into a cheese or veggie sauce, such as this clever five-a-day sauce, it can be loaded into a baking tray and bunged in the oven and be served in the same amount of time it takes you kids to wash their hands (they DO wash their hands, don't they?).

I'm no expert on this, but we get by, and I'm proud to say that, except for the occasional lapse, my kids and my wife eat dad's cooking-from-scratch every evening.

However, for more expert guidance, there are some great resources out there. Mum Cass Bailey's Frugal Family blog, for example, has some great meal planning advice. So too does the NHS and LoveFoodHateWaste.

Check 'em out. No excuses now. Feed your family from scratch every night – they're worth it. (Or, better still, get your partner to do it!)

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