If one peeked into my pale-yellow kitchen on any given day of the week between 6 and 7 p.m., he or she would glimpse my family of four seated in tall, wooden, swivel-backed chairs around a circular table, ready to dive into a mouthwatering homemade meal. Repeating this process throughout the week would open one’s eyes to a large menu of delectable dishes including, but certainly not limited to, vegetable stir-fry, bean burritos, sweet potato quiches and a never-ending list of soups, stews and chilies.
My family’s dinners range from last-night’s leftover spaghetti to full-scale productions that could rival Belle’s dinner in Beauty and the Beast complete with homemade dipping sauces on the side. A bowl of hand-shredded spinach salad accompanies nearly every meal while a Pandora jazz station hums in the background . But that’s only at dinner.
If one stopped by on a Saturday or Sunday morning, he or she might catch my dad, younger sister and me pouring a batch of buttermilk pancakes onto a hot griddle in our pajamas and slippers. Or we might already be moving down the assembly line of jams, syrups, nut butters and fruits. Around lunch time, the four of us will be pulling out Mom’s homemade sourdough bread to make sandwiches or ladling out servings of chicken noodle soup into ceramic dishes.
Food has been a focal point of my existence since before I can remember. I live in a family that values quiet, patient meals paired with good conversations and made from wholesome ingredients. My mom’s love of cooking and baking, paired with her history as a professional cake decorator, supplies my family with five-star-quality dining three meals a day. My dad also brings valuable recipes to our table. Without Dad’s skills and creativity, we would not have family-favorites like smoked salmon drizzled with mustard sauce or grilled pizza on birthdays.
Preparing homemade meals also saves money. On average, the typical American eats 4.2 commercially prepared meals every week, which adds up to be about $232 a month, according to the independent publisher and comparison service The Simple Dollar. Furthermore, a standard restaurant meal costs a whopping $12.75 per person compared to a homemade meal, which can ring up lower than $2 per person.
I didn’t always realize how lucky I was, though, to have so many unique ingredients on hand or such nutritious, well-planned meals and a family to enjoy them with.
In my elementary school days, I thought I was weird with my chocolate, peanut butter-banana sandwiches compared to the kids with their white, crustless, store-bought bread and bright red bags of Cheez-Its. I didn’t like standing out with my food because it made me the center of attention, which was uncomfortable.
Since my mom loves to make healthy recipes, I would occasionally bring baked oatmeal with yogurt, cinnamon and blueberries in my lunch, which kids gawked at. I wasn’t comfortable when kids exclaimed “Ew! Gross! What are you eating?” simply because it looked different compared to their food.
My discomfort, however, died away along with my taste for perfectly manicured store-bought bread and artificially-flavored potato chips.
Now that I’m older and have a greater appreciation for both rich flavors and nutritious meals, I am not as scared to whip out my cream cheese, almond butter and raisin sandwich on a thin bun in the middle of school. Some days, I even feel a hint of pity for my friends who come to class with oily pizza, cardboard-resembling Pop-Tarts and glucose-infested soft drinks while I munch on my carrot, spinach, hummus and cashew wrap on an organic tortilla.
“I didn’t always realize how lucky I was, though, to have so many unique ingredients on hand or such nutritious, well-planned meals and a family to enjoy them with. ”
Leading a busy life has also opened my eyes to the importance of eating with my family, a tradition which is slowly becoming less frequent as my sister and I pile on music lessons, clubs and after-school commitments that force us to rearrange our schedules. As the world of college nears and I sift away the last years of high school, I worry about how I will maintain my connection with food and with my family after leaving home.
What will it be like to walk into my future dorm and instead of relaxing into the sweet scent of freshly baked bread inhale the reek of fabric softener and air fresheners? How will I keep my body alive without the taste of Mom’s rich, cheesy lasagna or curried lentils, chicken and potatoes?
Fortunately, I still have a little time to learn how to cook my favorite recipes, and more than a decade and a half of helping my parents select ingredients at the grocery store has taught me how to shop and plan for healthy, tasty meals. If I go to college away from home, I hope to visit my family for dinner every week along with birthdays and other celebrations whenever possible to maintain our tradition of togetherness and ensure I don’t miss out on anyone’s birthday cake.
I also hope to keep these traditions alive in my own home once I’m out of college. If I have kids, I want to pass on my family’s recipes, styles of cooking and continue to experiment with new ones. Most of all I want to teach my kids the importance of eating together, using quality ingredients and savoring each meal.
Until then, I intend to enjoy all the flavors while they last.
How does food shape your family? Let us know in the comments below.