Four Moms- Cooking From Scratch

Welcome to another Thursday of The Four Moms, 35 Kids posts!  Today we are blogging about cooking from scratch.
The blogs of the other three moms in this motley crew are listed below- and by unspoken consensus we all seem to have just shed the whole ‘how we get it all done’ idea, because, you know what?  Nobody really gets it ALL done.  And if she did, we wouldn’t like her anyway, would we?
(and if you can’t get it all done without losing friends and hurting relationships, well, then, you’re not really getting it all done)

Here are some ideas on how I’ve made cooking from scratch work for us.  These ideas will vary in usefulness and applicability depending on your family’s circumstances.  Not all of them have worked at every single stage of life for me, either, so things that are easy for you to do now may be harder at a different time in life, and vice versa- life is in flux, and so is the way I manage my home (I’m 48, and my oldest child is about to be 27):

***Most important: Make room in your kitchen for your children when you cook if this is at all possible. If it’s not possible, make it possible.   I like to have either an island in the kitchen, a corner with a chair or loveseat, or, if the kitchen is too small, have a wide open space to the dining room so some of us can sit in the dining room and  we can still visit, help stir, cut, pour, and process foods together.
I have always had the children help knead bread dough and make their own loaves of bread- when they are big enough not to put it in their mouths when I tell them not to, they get to play with the bread dough- I would make extra just so they had some to play with.  This was their play dough for a long time.

I bring in stools and they sit on the counter or stand on stools and help pour in ingredients, open jars, stir, and so forth.  Yes, it’s messy sometimes.  It pays off in the end when they are used to being in the kitchen with you and learn how to be capable helpers and competent cooks at a young age.  When my oldest was little I would even give her a plastic cereal bowl of little bits of ingredients for her to mix- I’d add colored sugar just to make it fun for her.  I have an adorable picture of a chubby 18 month old wearing nothing but her cloth diaper and plastic pants sitting on my kitchen counter spooning a mixture of green sugar, flour and cornmeal into her mouth and smearing damp green sugar all over her face.

If you keep them out of the kitchen when they are little because they get underfoot and make everything take longer, they won’t want to be there when they are old enough and capable enough to be a help. 

Plus, while they are in the kitchen with you, they can’t be in the living room dumping out the basket  of magazines, or in the bathroom unrolling the toilet paper, or in the bedroom pulling all the clothes out of the drawers, or hiding behind the shower curtain in the bathroom eating a siblings package of starbursts and leaving the wrappers and a pair of dirty little footprints behind as evidence.  Not that we have ANY experiences of this sort.

You can ‘do school’ in the kitchen while you cook- you can have them learn about measurements, ingredients, and cooking concepts.  You can listen to a book on tape together.  Your children can read books, write, practice writing by putting a thin layer of sand or cornmeal in the bottom of a pan, discuss all kinds of interesting and meaningful-to-your-children topics that would never come up in a million years except by accident while you work together. Cook from scratch with your children.

Other ideas:
Do your from scratch cooking in bulk-   I like to make a huge batch of beans at once and freeze the surplus.  It doesn’t take any longer, really to make 16 cups of cooked beans than it does to make four.
Biscuit mix- make a big batch of biscuit mix in about the same time it would take to make one- set aside the surplus and use for biscuits, pancakes, muffins, coffee cakes.

If you find recipes for mixes (we also have a good recipe for brownie mix, and there are whole cookbooks dedicated to making mixes), you can usually put together a big batch of mix in the same time you would take to make one recipe anyway.

Improve one step at a time- pick one item you want to make from scratch.  Find a recipe that works for you- this refrigerator bread dough is fabulous for mixing ahead of time and then pulling some dough off to bake when you want it.  I’ve also heard- but have not used- that Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking is wonderful.  My library doesn’t have it, so I don’t know first hand.  Work on that recipe until you’ve got it, and then add another ‘from scratch’ recipe to your repertoire.

Teach your children simple recipes as early as they can learn them and make that part of their job.  Quite young children can be responsible for rinsing and draining sprouts three times a day.  Pip started making our granola when she was 11.  She thinks she was 14 or 15 when we learned how to make our laundry soap and she took over that job almost immediately (she was interested in chemistry at the time).  The FYG makes our brownie mix (she’s 14, and could have done this sooner, but she’s the sixth child and this makes a difference).  I think one of the older girls was around twelve when she took over bread baking for a while.  The HG was probably eight when she tried pancakes the first time (It was a disaster and that was my fault- I had not given her adequate directions in increasing the proportions of a recipe).


Find from scratch recipes from older cookbooks and in ethnic cookbooks, also ask the older women you know.

Make it fun if you can.  When we first started making cleaners from scratch, I gave each child a squirt bottle and we filled it with the basic cleaning ingredients, and then I let them choose their own combination of essential oils from my small stash to make sort of their signature cleaning spray.  We labeled the bottles.  I had been picking up a bottle of essential oils from time to time when they went on sale to help with the cost.

Pick a time that works for you- early in the morning?  After lunch?  Late at night?  Every Monday with dinner?  There are sure to be days that work better for you than other days.  Try to do some advance cooking from scratch on those days.
You’d be surprised at the things you can make from scratch.  Here are things we have made from scratch- this list is in no particular order and is not limited to foods.  If it is something we make at least as often or more often than we buy it ready made, I have put it in bold.  If I just about never buy the equivalent from the store, it’s in bold and italics:

Pasta, yogurt, cream cheese, cottage cheese, buttermilk, cakes, muffins, pancakes, breads, butter, scouring powder, laundry soap, wall cleaner, biscotti, soap, bagels, English muffins, peanut butter, almond butter, frosting, creamed soup, gravy, canned soups other than creamed, spaghetti sauce, pasta sauce,  special tea blends, sassafrass tea, cappuccino, iced coffees, hamburger helper,’ biscuit mix, wrapping paper, paper, sour cream, crackers, cheese balls, popcorn (ie, we pop it on the stove in a pan, not in a bag in the microwave), caramel popcorn, candy, cookies, pudding, play dough, paste, apple butter, pickles, watermelon rind pickles, sushi, starch for ironing, ‘Wallies’ for decorating the walls, popsicles, ice cream toppings, fudge, breakfast foods, granola, granola bars, tortillas, jams, jellies, Spanish rice, curry powder, refried beans, whipped cream, corn chips, potato chips, vanilla, pies, pastries, doughnuts, pop tarts, diaper wipes, laundry soap, macaroni and cheese, noodles Alfredo, dumplings, salad dressings, mayonnaise, sprouts (okay, we grow these in a jar on the kitchen counter, but I don’t buy them ready made), dried citrus peel for recipes, compost/potting soil, brownie mix, cornbread (we even grind the corn from popping corn or from a bucket of field corn the farmers who own the land next to us give us once a year because they are nice), calzones, pita bread, hot pockets, baby food, bread crumbs, croutons, beans (I don’t buy canned legumes), pie crust, chicken nuggets (we hardly ever have these.  If we have them, we make them), pancake syrup,  – and that’s off the top of my head.  If you have any specific questions about any of these, or something your’re surprised about because it is not on my list, feel free to ask!

If there is something missing from my list that you make from scratch, please let me know what it is so I can try it!
Now, I don’t say I make all these things all the time.  BWAHAHA.  Some of them I have made only once and failed too badly to try again.  Some of them I have made several times and every time it was a flop so I continue to buy the ready-made version (tortillas.  I cannot master tortillas).  Some I made for fun and out of curiosity just to see if I could, and I never intended to make a habit of it (pop-tarts and  potato chips- the pop tarts worked, but why bother, and the potato chips were a flop. Corn chips were easier).  Some I used to make more regularly but have gotten out of the habit.  This post is an excellent reminder that I want to renew regular making of yogurt, salad dressings, and mayonnaise.  It may be that you will never mayonnaise, but you will make me look like an idiot with your skill at tortillas.  You won’t know if you do not try.

How do you know what you should make from scratch and what you should buy ready made?  Well, you’ll have to decide based on your family’s circumstances.

Most of the other dairy products I made when we had milk goats- the milk was free, there was more milk than we would drink (nobody but the toddler would drink goat’s milk), and so that’s what I would did with the surplus.  The jams and jellies I made when we could pick all the free blackberries we wanted.  I don’t think they are cheaper if you have to buy the fruit, and I personally can’t make them without absolutely destroying my kitchen.  OTOH, we just bought nearly 30 pounds of strawberries at about .91 a pound last night, so I might need to get out the old canning pot.

My personal budget meter finds it acceptable to purchase convenience foods I can’t make at home (frozen ravioli is one of the convenience foods I do buy), or those foods where most of my family strongly prefers the storebought version (peanut butter- they do like the freshly ground version from Whole Foods, but I live three hours from a Whole Foods), or I could make it, but it’s really complicated and tedious to me and I am not sure it’s worth the price in the end (jams and jellies exhaust me, cheese is expensive w/o your own milk supply, pasta- I find hard to roll).

My personal budget meter frets over spending money on things I can make at home fairly simply- if I do not have the time to make it from scratch, then usually I’d rather do without than buy something I could just as easily make.  That, of course, is another way to save money and time- just do without something you don’t have time to make and try something else instead.

I will sometimes buy bread ready made, for instance, but I won’t buy things like a ready made pie, bread crumbs, alfredo sauce in a jar, gravy packets, envelopes of Italian seasoning or taco seasoning, microwave popcorn, frosting in a tub, Hamburger Helper, flavored rice in a box, or croutons. I only like guacamole if it’s made from scratch, so if the ingredients are too expensive or I don’t have time to mash up avocados, I just don’t have guacamole.

I rarely buy soups in a can- they have to be on sale, or we have to be incredibly busy and need to make some quick and easy freezer meals because we’re having something like a hundred people in and out that month.  Yes, this has happened, and it’s probably at least an annual event.

I personally have never mastered tortillas, so we buy them.  I try to make them once a while and they are tasteless chips every single time.

I also find it very difficult to roll out things like pasta, tortillas, and crackers thinly enough- it hurts my hands.  Yes, I could get the Progeny to do it for me, but really, they already do just about everything, plus Jenny works full time at the airport most of the time now, and Pip works three days a week at the library in addition to an online math class, music lessons,  and my share of the cooking.

I won’t say you will never find convenience foods on my shelves, because not only are there some I buy, but my husband brings them home sometimes.  My husband works at a grocery store, so sometimes he will bring home something that is past its sell by date.  We might also end up with a convenience food package when a stocker at the store accidentally  slashes open a box, or a package gets crushed to the point that a customer wouldn’t buy it, but it’s still perfectly edible.  Once we got several pounds of polish sausage when a customer vandalized them by cutting open the packages and pouring dish soap over them.  We just rinsed them very thoroughly and pulled the sausage skins off.

The convenience foods I do and don’t buy have varied throughout our marriage, too.  Before our first child was born, I always made all of our breads from scratch- biscuits, breads, pancakes, etc.  After she was born I don’t think I made another loaf of bread for a couple of years.  There is a day old bread store in the area where we go to church now, and sometimes I can buy bread cheaper than I can make it- organic, whole grain bread, even.  There were a few poverty stricken years when pancake syrup was only the home-made kind, and then there were several years where it seemed I had more money than time so we bought the syrup again..

You have to consider your circumstances, what’s available to you, your strengths and weaknesses, and decide what works for you.

Here are a few more specifics:

Cook your own dried legumes instead of buying canned. I cook up a big batch at once and then freeze the cooked legumes in bags containing four cups each (a smaller family might freeze two cups of cooked beans at a time).
Canned Soup: You can simply make a thick white sauce or roux, flavoring as desired. You can also boil five potatoes and two onions and cream them for the equivilant of about two undiluted cans of cream soup. There are other fancier recipes.

Breakfast cereals are probably one of the most expensive convenience foods.  Make other things- muffins from scratch, eat oatmeal or cornmeal mush for breakfast rather than prepared cereals- I think even scrambled eggs are cheaper than prepared cold cereals. Make granola if you want cold breakfasts, make your own biscuit mix from scratch- this is easy and much cheaper than commercial mixes, and make pancakes as well as biscuits.

This is a topic I have blogged about pretty extensively- here are some previous posts that have information you will find useful:

Here are some things I would like to try making from scratch one day:
-Carbonated soda- just once, to say I did it
-Successful flour tortillas- this would save us SO MUCH money!  Hmmm- I’m going to try the recipe Kimberly shared.
-Ravioli- Because I think it would save us money, and it would be cool.

I would like to return to consistently making our own salad dressings, mayo, and yogurt ALL the time.

How about you?  What do you make from scratch?  What do you wish you made from scratch?

Updated to remind y’all that, as Smockity says (I’m borrowing her words again): And you will NOT want to miss the 4 Moms, 35 Kids series next Thursday, April 22, because we will be having a recipe link up! You will have the opportunity to share your best recipes for large crowds, and when you enter your link on one of our blogs, it will show up on all FOUR! 

Past topics:

This post linked at Life as a Mom’s Frugal Fridays
Linked also at Tatertots and Jello: Dinner Dilemma

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