10 reasons to cook from scratch

by Tiggered

Cooking from scratch beats ready-made meals on every front. Here are 10 reasons why.

I cook. Always have, always will. By 'cooking' I understand putting a meal together from basic ingredients, not re-heating a TV dinner in a microwave. In short, I cook from scratch.

Some people and the very aisles of supermarkets try to convince me that I shouldn't, really. Why would anyone bother to cook from scratch when there are so many convenience meals available?

They never managed to change my mind and here are ten reasons why.

All photos by Tiggered (food cooked from scratch, of course, recipe links included)

1. When you cook from scratch, you know exactly what goes into your food

My ingredient lists tend to be simple. You don't need to be a chemistry major to recognise all the things I cook with. No sodium glutamate, no potassium sorbate. Ready-made meals are full of the stuff - and that's only top of the iceberg. I can't even recollect the more complicated food additives without looking at the actual label - they tend to have more letters than antidisestablishmentarianism. Do you call that food?

I don't.

Food safety regulations supposedly protect us from harmful ingredients getting added to our grub. Yes, well. Even if I trusted government agencies that much (which I don't), I still wouldn't feel comfortable eating half a chemistry lab.

When I cook from scratch, I don't have to wonder if veggies were cleaned before being added to my salad, or if my chicken has ever landed on the floor or not. I know all that, just as I know how many times oil for deep frying was used or how old my porcini mushrooms are. I know exactly how much sugar goes into my pie and how much salt was added to my lasagne.

I don't have this comfort with convenience meals, no matter how 'convenient' they are.

You could call me over-sensitive, but if you have ever worked in food industry - or know anyone who did - you probably know a nasty story or two. Having heard my share of food horrors, I cherish my paranoia.

On the picture - onion biscuits

2. It tastes better if it's cooked from scratch

The food I cook usually gets eaten within half an hour. It does not stay in fridges for weeks or months at a time - unless I really, really want it to, which rarely happens. In other words - it's fresh.

It is made from fresh ingredients, too. You can't really judge freshness of your meat or veg or fruit once it has been stewed or frozen. When you buy basic ingredients - preferably not in supermarket, too - you're more likely to get really fresh products. There's only so much you can do to a tomato to disguise its age.

Freshness aside, cooking from scratch allows you to taylor the flavour exactly to your needs. Someone in your family doesn't like mozarella? No problem, add cheddar to your pizza instead. Not a big fan of cinnamon? Leave it out when you're baking apple pie. You decide how to season your food.

Surely you know your taste better than a mass producer?

On the picture - courgette/zucchini soup

3. Cooking from scratch is SO! MUCH! CHEAPER!

I must have saved a fortune by cooking. Inevitably, cooking from basic ingredients is more budget-friendly than buying convenience meals.

To prove my point, let's take a closer look at the economics of pizza. I'll quote my local (Irish) prices, but I'm sure they will be similar wherever you live.

Frozen pizza - anything from E2 to E5.

Homemade pizza (my standard recipe makes two large pizzas):

1/2 kg flour - E0.50
10 g yeast - E0.10
4 tbsp oil - E0.10
salt, water - cost too insubstantial to mention

mozarella cheese - E0.70
tomato sauce - E0.50
onion - E0.20
salami - E1.00
feta cheese - E0.50

All in all, it costs me about E3.60 to make two large pizzas. No need to add that they are much tastier than frozen stuff.

I could repeat the mathematics for any recipe but inevitably, I would end up with pretty much the same results. Retailers make the highest profits on processed foods. If you 'process' them yourself, profit stays in your pocket.

On the picture - BLT

4. Cooking from scratch can be as quick as re-heating a 'convenience meal'

Sure, I can spend hours in the kitchen if I want to, but I know a whole range of quick and easy recipes for times when I don't want to. I shared some of them in my article called Ten Minute Dinners - you can see for yourself that I'm not bluffing.

I can cook a dinner in less time than I would spend re-heating a frozen meal or driving to a fast food joint. It's no rocket science either - anyone with basic knowledge of cooking and a recipe can do it too.

On the picture - pierogi

How often do you cook from scratch?

5. Cook from scratch for more nutricious, less fattening food

It's no coincidence that countries with 'convenience food' culture are also countries with the highest obesity rate.

Commercially processed food is full of empty calories. It is composed of the cheapest, least nutricious ingredients. It rarely contains more than symbolic quantities of vegetables (forget about fresh - you won't get your 5-a-day this way). Instead, it's jam-packed with salt, sugar, fat and starch. NOT the healthiest diet.

If you're worried about calories in your food, cook light. By 'light' I don't mean commercial products labelled as such. I mean less fat, less sugar, more veggies and unprocessed grain. It's easy to switch to a healthy, low-calorie diet when you are the person who controls what's on your plate.

On the picture - deviled eggs

If you're looking for inspiration or more reasons to cook from scratch:


6. Cook from scratch if you enjoy cooking

I love, love, love to cook. I love to spend time in the kitchen, chopping, stirring, mixing, seasoning. I love to experiment with flavours, to get creative with shape and texture of food. I enjoy designing my own recipes and who cares if an experiment sometimes ends in a disaster. I like to use completely new ingredients in my cooking, to learn how to use an exotic spice or a new (to me) type of cereal. I like to hunt for new recipes, to try them out, to adjust quantities or flavours.

I'm supposed to exchange all that for the joys of taking plastic off a tray and popping it in the oven?

Forget it!

On the picture - apple cake

7. Cooking from scratch is more family-friendly

OK, I know I'm running the risk of sounding cheesy (and of infuriating some feminists...) here. I'll try to be as no-nonsense as possible.

Convenience meals and domestic bliss are not exactly compatible. I understand that it's not always the case, that there are women who hate cooking and families who don't mind. I'm happy for you, if you belong to this group, whatever works for you is fine by me.

Still - I love cooking for my family. I feel insanely proud that I can feed them delicious, healthy food. In my world, time spent in the kitchen is not wasted, it is invested to create something of emotional as well as economical value.

Lucky me, my efforts are fully appreciated.

On the picture - kiwi chicken with potato puffs and carrot salad

Cooking from scratch vs convenience meals

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Let me do the cooking
CountrySunshine on 02/10/2014

I'd much rather make and eat a homemade meal that suffer through a convenience meal!

kimbesa on 05/05/2013

I get to try new dishes, and know exactly what's in our food.

Guest on 05/03/2013

You saw into my head!

8. Cooking from scratch allows you to enjoy variety

Let's be frank - convenience meals do not provide a lot of choice. A few basic ideas are recycled over and over. There's a pasta-and-tomato theme, there's something battered, there's standard Chinese or Indian meal, there's pizza/burgers/chips junk and that's pretty much it. After a while even a less sophisticated palate craves something more.

Cooking from scratch gives you literally thousands of options. You can explore different cuisines, use any ingredients you want, employ whatever culinary technique appeals to you.

I am confident I could cook something different every single day, for years if needed. Could any convenience food section in any supermarket compete with that?

On the picture - kopytka (Polish gnocchi)

9. Cooking from scratch lets you practise a skill

While almost everyone can boil potatoes, really impressive cooking takes some skill. As with any ability, this skill needs practising too. In short - the more you cook, the better you get.

There are always new tricks to discover, new techniques to master. While satisfaction from a difficult job well done is usually enough, you never know when such a skill could come handy.

Now, how's a convenience meal to self development? Can you be a world champion of ripping plastic packaging away? Can you get better at throwing stuff into a microwave? Nah, no skill required, nothing new learned.

On the picture - pastitsio

10. Cooking from scratch can impress in social situations

Have you ever cooked a show-off dinner for large group of people? I have. I'm not much of a social animal but I admit - compliments pouring from left and right were very, very pleasant. I'm afraid the effect can not be achieved with supermarket take-away meal, no matter what the advertisers claim.

Ability to cook something truly impressive is useful, believe me. Whether it's seasonal celebration, family gathering or good old dinner party, a fancy meal is bound to earn some respect.

Do I really need to add that to cook show-off dinners you need more than ability to re-heat a pizza?

 On the picture - buckwheat with meat stew and pickled gherkins

Food by Tiggered

Pastitsio - layers of pasta and minced meat in tomato sauce, covered in bechamel, baked to crispy perfection
A foolproof recipe for a quick, easy and delicious apple cake.
BLT sandwich (bacon, lettuce and tomato) is the second most popular sandwich in America and absolute number one in UK
Polish cuisine has its own version of gnocchi: kopytka, delicious potato dumplings.
Updated: 04/08/2013, Tiggered
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Tiggered on 02/24/2014

I'm sure it's nothing new for you, but I'm glad you liked the article :)

frankbeswick on 02/23/2014

For people like me who practise self-reliance cooking from scratch is central to our way of life. Thankyou for adding this concept to my understanding of self-reliance.

Guest on 02/23/2014

@kimbesa plus if you're picky about what you like or you have dietary requirements, home cooking means you can meet those preferences and still have tasty food too.

Tiggered on 05/05/2013

I agree 100%

kimbesa on 05/05/2013

Home cooking can be just as convenient as take out food, time you order it and get it. There are a lot of simple recipes that are easy to make and quick.

Tiggered on 05/03/2013

I am more worried by artificial additives - but salt is a menace too, when added in commercial qualities.
My partner is not that keen on cooking, but he's great on appreciating homemade food so I enjoy similar benefits :)

Guest on 05/03/2013

Yes, you read my head. Thank you. This way this salt-phobic knows what goes into her food. And it isn't salt. Plus my husband and I get to spend valuable time together in the kitchen talking and stirring, The home made items always go quickest at the bring-and-share parties anyway so that's a double win for being invited back. More free food, and more chances to share it with others.

Tiggered on 10/09/2012

Thank you :)

katiem2 on 10/09/2012

I agree whole heatedly. Cooking from scratch is always tastier, healthier and more rewarding. Great article. :)K

Tiggered on 10/08/2012

A wise man indeed. Good to hear your Mum acted on his advice :)

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