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The Family Kitchen

November 19, 2013

Fat HealthMy Boring-Ass Life

Many fat people are familiar with the “if you would just cook your own food, you wouldn’t be so fat!” theme of body policing; this idea that if we would just get off our lazy asses and get into the kitchen our problem (that of being fat) would be solved.  Yes, eating home-cooked meals is generally healthier than eating fast food or take-out, and eating at the table as a family — whatever that looks like to you — is helpful to everyone in various ways, fat or thin. But it probably didn’t occur to many of the Body Police to ask “Hey, do you even know HOW to cook?”

Speaking from experience, I didn’t start cooking for myself on a regular basis until I moved out of my parent’s home at the age of 20. Before that, I either ate at home with them or out on the fly: cafeteria food at the university, mall meals or whatever I threw in the microwave when I got in after class. Eating dinner at the table is a cherished ritual for me, despite the bumps I encountered growing up, but cooking is a chore. After moving out, I didn’t have room for a kitchen table in my tiny two bedroom apartment, so we (my first roomie and best friend Ryan, who is now my husband) ate all our meals on the couch in front of the TV. Cooking has come slowly over the last ten years, and I’m sure some people would point to that fact as part of the reason why I’m fat. They may be right, but they also don’t have the whole story. Before I moved out, the kitchen was not a place where I was welcome. I could get breakfast or lunch for myself, but dinner was off limits. Someone else cooked that and the phrase “Get out of my kitchen!” was heard often from my dad, only half joking. Upon asking my mom if she wanted a hand, she’d usually say no and keep doing what she was doing.

A batch of slightly overdone chocolate chip cookies

The tried-and-true chocolate chip cookie

There have been many times in my adult life where I’ve called my parents and asked for simple cooking advice, things I didn’t learn from them before and don’t want to look up online. How do you know when a piece of fish is cooked? What do you use to get hamburgers to stick together nicely? How long does a roast go in the oven? I feel silly at nearly 30 years old picking up the phone and asking, but it’s also something I know they won’t mind me asking about. It’s a way to keep in touch and keep building on our relationship. Still, I wish that as a child I’d been invited more often into that mysterious, technical world of cooking. If you want to encourage the kids in your life to cook, here are some easy-to-follow steps:

  1. Don’t worry about the mess! Kids are developing their gross and fine motor skills. Pouring, measuring and mixing will help with this, but there are going to be spills along the way.
  2. Start simple, but don’t play dumb. Why stick to grilled cheese or scrambled eggs when there are turkeys to be roasted or pies to bake? Once your kids have mastered the basics, move on to more interesting and challenging dishes.
  3. Safety is key. As I said, fine and gross motor skills are still developing, so before handing your child a large knife and having them dice potatoes show them exactly what to do and guide their hands with your own. Always turn pot handles turned towards the back of the stove and keep oven mitts and lids handy.
  4. Allow kids to be involved in all steps of the process (as age appropriate). From washing the veggies to slicing and dicing, stirring, mixing and measuring, tasting and finally serving, your kid will have fun and they’ll be learning skills for the rest of their life.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    November 19, 2013 9:13 am

    I learned to cook at an early age. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to if we didn’t want to eat dinner at 9 p.m. My mother worked, and it was my job when I got home from school, to start dinner. My mom had already decided what we were going to have, and I was supposed to start the potatoes and vegetables cooking so that when she got home, all she had to do was cook the meat. So by the time I left home, I knew how to cook, but hated it (just like I knew how to do dishes and hated that). I also knew how to do laundry, iron, and could sew well enough to make my own clothes, none of which I really liked doing, since they were all chores to be done and nothing was done in the teaching to make learning any fun.
    Moral of the story – if you want to teach your kids the basics that they’ll need once they’re out on their own, make the learning process fun, don’t make it a chore, and praise them when they do something right but don’t berate them when they make mistakes (and they will make mistakes, it’s part of the learning process for all of us).

  2. November 19, 2013 9:53 am

    I feel like this issue gets ignored too much. Fifty years ago, everybody took a Home Ec class, but today few schools still teach basic cooking skills. As a result, people become dependent upon shortcuts, if not for the time-saving aspect, then for the simple fact that they don’t know how to do it themselves, they aren’t confident enough to try, or the times they did try they fucked up royally. I think Home Ec should be a mandatory part of all public schools. Of course, here in the States, we’d need to solve the funding issues first.


  3. November 19, 2013 10:26 am

    I remember cooking my first full-fledged meal at age 9 from a Betty Crocker cookbook. I made meat loaf and mashed potatoes. Other side dishes included green beans from a can and sliced bread with butter. I do not cook as much now as I once did, because my husband does the cooking now, but I still remember my way around the kitchen for those times I need to throw something together. 🙂

  4. November 19, 2013 10:41 am

    I took a cooking class in grade 10 but it was optional. Life skills like cooking, creating and managing a budget, renting your first place, finding and keeping your first job, are things we’re *supposed* to learn from our parents, but lacking that, yes, teach it in school! Everyone can benefit from the above, as well as knowing how to fix tears in your clothes, putting back on a button, how to change, hold and feed a baby, and navigating the grocery store.

    • November 19, 2013 10:54 pm

      … but lacking that, yes, teach it in school!

      From a US perspective — It’s a good impulse, but it means we’d need to fund and oversee (to ensure that funds are being spent on correct priorities) our public school systems accordingly. Which, at a societal level, we do not seem to be willing to do.

  5. November 19, 2013 2:13 pm

    Yes, thank you!

    There’s also the issue of class and income. Fat folk are more likely to also be poor folk in this country. So the holier-than-thou types should stop and think before they shoot off their mouths. Maybe the person they’re wagging a finger at doesn’t cook because they lack the essential implements: Cookware, seasonings, a stove, and a fridge they can actually afford to leave plugged in. (It’s not uncommon for the poor, working or otherwise, to avoid using rental appliances in an attempt to keep utility bills down.) All these things cost money. Our local Food Bank got hip to that, and installed a kitchen with the goal of having cooking classes; So those receiving food in its “raw” state could actually understand what to do with it once they got it.

    I’ve cooked all my life, FWIW. I love salads, soups, stir fries, etc. (Along with all the “bad” home-cooking, too.) Heck, I had family in the restaurant biz. Still fat.

    • Len permalink
      November 19, 2013 7:24 pm

      Yes! You are so right. I cook all of my own meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and I do it because I am very, very fortunate and privileged to have the means, the time and access to raw ingredients. Knowing how much of a commitment of time and money it is – and I enjoy it, not everybody does – I would never ever judge any person who doesn’t cook.

      It hasn’t stopped me being fat, either, although it certainly means I get good nutrition. So anybody who says people will lose weight by eating home cooking is not only ignoring crucial issues of access and equality, but also talking rubbish.

  6. November 19, 2013 5:13 pm

    Excellent blog! Cooking is important. All kids should learn – at least the basics.

    But, isn’t it funny… Many people who will spout off that fat people should be eating only home cooked meals, and lay off the 14 weekly trips to fast food places, [rolls eyes], are the same ones who berate TV cooks like Paula Deen, because she has the gall to use REAL butter, milk and cream etc. in her (very traditional) home cooked dishes… (And it serves her right! to get diabetes, too!!)
    See? Can’t win for losin’ with the food police.
    That said, I left home pretty early (17) and was cooking and running a household immediately. I had learned some Italian cooking from my mother, but in our school district, back in the day, students could take their first Home Economics course in 6th grade. And that’s what I did, and I took it every year until I was a Junior in High School, where I switched into the more advanced “Food Service” courses.
    So, for 7 school years, I was in a food/cooking/service class. It came easy to me.
    Honestly, to this day I just don’t ‘get’ how people can’t follow a recipe.
    I mean, I can understand not being able to *invent* dishes or not knowing how to experiment with spices or whatever (not my strong suit either), but to me, following any recipe is … well, a piece of cake. (See what I did there?) 😉
    I have 4 brothers; two of them are pretty good cooks, the other two- eh. They can cook a little.
    I wonder… do most schools even offer Home Ec. any more? I’m going to check to see if my old schools do.

  7. November 20, 2013 8:11 am

    I think it’s because I’m mixed in heritage and culture, but my siblings and I grew up in the kitchen. We graduated from being veggie washers to being veggie preppers to being veggie slicers, we sat on the countertop and stuck our fingers into the pots and pans on the stove, and we crawled into the fridge and looked at everything there. My Nonna would not have grandkids who couldn’t cook, no way! I hated it.

    We didn’t have any food insecurities, though, and I know it’s different for so many people. If you can’t afford the fresh parsnips at the farmer’s market, or can’t get there, or don’t have one in your neighborhood, how are you going to learn how to use them, how they taste?

    When I moved out and went to college I was so happy I didn’t have to do the hated kitchen chores and cooking anymore- take-out all day, every day, or the cafeteria for me!
    Within six months, I was cooking again because I just couldn’t get used to the food tasting all the same. Whoops. Today, I regularly cook for friends and family, and usually get comments about my spice shelves, how I know how to use some kind of exotic fruit or vegetable, or why I’m putting a dash of cinnamon in my tomato sauce. I’m grateful for my kitchen education and wish that everyone could get at least some of it, if only because I learned to appreciate herbs, spices, and real flavors. Bringing back Home Ec would be a good step, IMO.

  8. November 20, 2013 3:38 pm

    My mother is a perfectionist and I was never fast enough for her. I tend to use a lot of frozen and canned goods to concoct my culinary “masterpieces” when I’m cooking for me and my son. When I’m only cooking for myself, I admit that if it doesn’t come in a box that I can throw in the microwave, I’m not likely to have anything to do with it.

  9. December 13, 2013 2:17 pm

    I had Home Ec classes in school, but they were pretty much only for girls. Was so happy when Home Ec (and shop classes) were opened up to anyone, regardless of gender. Sadly, few schools now have Home Ec classes. My teens’ school does have some cooking classes but they are classes aimed at cooking as a career and a business, not practical cooking as a life skill, and they are certainly not required. Shop doesn’t even exist at our school. Budget cuts are to blame for both.

    I know how to cook but I don’t enjoy it. Fortunately, my husband comes from a cooking family and does a lot of our cooking, and I pitch in where needed. We are both trying to make sure our kids grow up and know how to cook, especially basic dishes. I regularly have the teens take turns making dinner. They gripe, but it’s important that they know how and have some recipe repertoire to call on. I also try to make sure they know how to can food so they can put up garden produce and have long-term food storage for the lean times.

    There are a lot of parents, though, that don’t teach their kids how to cook. So the kids grow up relying only on microwaving processed food, or on fast food instead. It’s a terrible shame.

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