Resetting the bread crumb trail

Young adults have lost sight of home cooking, but a brewing revolution brings them back to the kitchen

By Molly Dunn

It’s hard to believe, but it used to be the norm for American families to sit down and eat a home-cooked meal every night. This lifestyle, prominent in the 1950s and ‘60s, seems to have disappeared over the past decades, but it may be making a comeback.

Dr. Janelle Walter, nutrition sciences professor in the department of family and consumer sciences department at Baylor, said that progression toward the automobile made more restaurants available to the public, and fewer meals were prepared at home as more women entered the workforce.

“If you look at how is this different for today from the 1950s, first of all, there were almost no places to eat at other than home,” Walter said. “Home cooking is what everybody had because that’s all they had.”

Walter added that a professional meeting of the American Home Economics Association, held in 1994, predicted that women would not be preparing home-cooked meals in 10 years, and it was correct.

“Yes, they predicted it,” Walter said. “But what they didn’t predict was the fatness we have because we eat out.”

After America stepped out of the kitchen and into the realm of dine-in and fast food restaurants, the practice of homemade cooking was lost.

Using the analogy of Hansel and Gretel, Walter said there is no pathway back to cooking in the kitchen because the memory of it is gone.

In order to revive the ghost of food preparation from earlier decades, young adult education in cooking basics is needed, Walter said.

“Not only do we not have models, we’ve found from our students, they don’t even know how to get started,” Walter said.

“They don’t know how to go, let’s say, find a recipe, make out a grocery order and go shopping. So it’s easier not to do it and do something else, but it’s not that hard if you just get started.”

Dr. Suzy Weems, professor and chair of the department of family and consumer sciences, said two major barriers for cooking are that it takes too much time and the misconception that it costs more to buy groceries for a meal.

“When you get a list for a recipe that has 20 ingredients in it, a lot of people look at that and go, ‘No way am I going to do that.’ From that perspective, it’s time expensive. Moneywise, it’s probably less expensive,” Weems said. “That’s probably one of my pet peeves is for persons to say, ‘Oh, fast food is a lot cheaper than good food.’ Monetarily, I don’t think that’s true.”

Senior peer nutrition educator Julie Smith said compared to dining out all the time, it’s cheaper to buy groceries to prepare meals.

“You save a lot of money,” Smith said.

“By just simply planning out your meals for the week and making a list and sticking to it can save a lot of money, rather than going out three, four times a week.”

Smith said not only should young adults and adults be educated in culinary basics, but children as well. She also said that starting young can help America return to the lifestyle of preparing homecooked meals, as well as increasing the amount of time families spend with each other.

“We’re not spending as much time at home with family, with friends,” Smith said.

“Preparing a meal together can be a great way to spend time with friends and family and then sharing in that meal can go a long way toward building healthy relationships and just taking that time to slow down and enjoy a meal together.”

Through focusing on building healthier relationships with family members, parents can instill a passion and love for cooking in their children.

“If you do cook food at home and you have children, you can cook together,” Walter said. “It’s a good time to pass along learning and it’s fun. It builds interest. If you have involved them in the process, they are a player in it.”

Allowing children to be a part of the process of cooking a meal allows families to not only spend more time together, but it teaches the children how to prepare a meal.

“I think that there’s a huge shift encouraging people to learn to cook again,” Weems said.

“I know with young children as soon as they’re about two and a half, sometimes as young as two, they want to help whatever is going on. As we get away from ‘the woman’s place is in the kitchen’ and get it back to ‘the family’s place is in the kitchen,’ we’re going to be looking at a lot healthier approach.”

America’s growing culinary interest has opened more doors for home cooking.

The vast number of cooking shows on television inspire some Americans to cook, but cooking shows seem to be more entertainment for its viewers than a means of education, Walter said.

“Cooking shows can’t hurt anything, but I do think it’s going to take some educational process, either in community centers or in churches or somehow to build those cooking skills one little step at a time,” Walter said.

America isn’t back to the 1950s and 1960s, but more Americans have certainly begun to regain motivation to cook, Weems said.

“It’s really important that we start cooking again,” Weems said. “It doesn’t mean everything happens from scratch, but it does mean we know how to use those special things that are available out there for us anyway.”