About 53 percent of Millennials say they eat at restaurants at least once a week, compared with 43 percent of Generation X or baby boomers, according to a 2015 survey of 3,000 adults by Morgan Stanley.
Americans in 2014 spent more money on food consumed in restaurants, school lunch programs and at sporting events than they did on food prepared and consumed at home, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS).
The money spent on food away from home was 50.1 percent of the 1.46 trillion spent on food, while 49.9 percent was spent on grocery store purchases. In 1960, just 26.3 percent of a family’s income was spent on food consumed away from home (Lamagna, 2016).
We have to assume that some of the foods purchased from grocery stores were meals ready to heat and eat. In other words, no cooking skill was required to put a meal on the table.
According to a survey conducted in 2016 by the Pew Research Center American adults, aged 18 to 34 were more likely to be living with their parents than with a spouse or significant other. Thus, there are more and more adult children still sitting around mom and dad’s dinner table who probably do not see a need to learn how to cook at this time in their life because mom or dad are still laboring over the stove for their children.
There has always been a debate about the cost of eating out versus buying and preparing food at home. Some, of course, claim it is less expensive to eat out than to buy the food, carry it home, and then spend time cooking and cleaning up. It depends on the food you order in a restaurant of course, and the food you buy for cooking at home. We will not get into that debate because it can be more or less expensive depending on your personal preferences.
This article is about cooking and how necessary it is to have the right skills when grocery stores are shuttered and restaurants are just a fond memory of days past. An extended crisis will force all families and individuals to prepare their own food and without the proper skills, you can cause sickness, or even death, not to mention causing a revolt among family members. A hot meal can be a lifesaver not only from a nutrition standpoint but from a psychological one as well.
You will have to know how to prepare food from its raw state. Food pre-cooked and packaged for your dining convenience will be a thing of the past. What will you do if you trade some children toys and clothes or medicine for fresh game or fish? What happens if your spouse or partner drags home a deer that needs to be processed within hours for a meal that night and then you have to preserve the rest for the days and weeks to follow?
Cooking is not just for the females in the family or group and hunting is not just for the males in the group. Everyone needs to know how to hunt for fresh game and then cook and preserve that same game, and children, as well as adults, are frankly never too young or old respectively to start learning.
You have to include safe food handling first and foremost. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) roughly 1 in 6 or 48 million Americans get sick each year from consuming contaminated foods or beverages, and 128,000 require a hospital stay while 3,000 die from food-borne illnesses each year. Food safety is important, and it must be taught first before anything else (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2016).
It starts with teaching inexperienced and experienced cooks alike the need for proper hand washing and this is even more important during a crisis where professional medical care and medicines may not be available if someone does get sick from contaminated foods.
Raw meats must be processed in such a way that they do not contaminate foods like bread or raw fruits or vegetables and other foods that may not be typically cooked or not cooked at a high enough temperature to destroy bacteria or pathogens that may be present.
Clean work surfaces before and after handling raw meats using bleach and water. Raw vegetables and fruits must be scrubbed and then rinsed well with clean water to remove any contaminates from the surface even if the product has a skin that will not be eaten.
Bacteria on the skin or peel can reach the edible parts if you cut the food with a knife or handle the food after handling the skin or peel. The bacterium on the outside is carried inside by a knife blade or by your hands.
Oil and butter are staples for cooking food in frying pans and for baking as well as salt and pepper. Most foods benefit from spices applied during and after cooking to enhance the flavor.
Start with the basics, like butter and olive oil or other cooking oils, salt, pepper, garlic raw or powdered as well as basil, parsley, rosemary, dill, sage, and thyme. These, of course, are not the only herbs and spices available for cooking but they are a start.
Ideally, you would either have a small herb garden inside the home, on the deck or have a garden in the backyard. Fresh is always better, and fresh herbs do provide many necessary nutrients and some do have certain healing properties as well.
Gardening is part of the cooking process when food supply chains are disrupted. Many of the spices you buy dry from the store can be raised with very little space or effort right in your own kitchen or on the deck. Your backyard garden can also provide fresh vegetables for daily consumption as well as provide a surplus for canning, drying, and pickling.
Some foods, of course, fare better when baked, versus using a frying pan, but during a crisis, you may have only a few options or even one option and that may be an open flame. You need utensils and pots and pans that can literally take the heat of open flames and can cook or bake virtually anything.
A Dutch oven is ideal for all types of cooking and baking from inside an oven to pit cooking using charcoal or even when cooking over an open flame. You can deep fry in a deep Dutch Oven, or fry a steak, boil potatoes, make biscuits, bread, desserts and even sauté or steam vegetables.
Know your cuts of meat so you know the best way to cook them. Tough cuts do better when cooked slowly and cuts like well-marbled steaks, for example, are best cooked fast over a hot flame.
Game meat like venison can have very little fat content and can be very tough if overcooked. Venison steaks can be cooked to medium or even medium rare for the best results. Pork, poultry and ground meats on in the other hand, must be thoroughly cooked to destroy any bacteria present.
Some meats and other foods will continue to cook after being removed from the heat, so study the chart provided below for cooking temperatures and resting times if applicable.
After you remove meat from a grill, oven, or other heat source, allow it to rest for the specified amount of time. During the rest time, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys harmful germs.
Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2016
Children can be taught the basics rather quickly. They need to learn how to cut up meats and vegetables safely, because just tossing meat on the flame or carrots in the pot doesn’t always add up to a good meal.
When cooking vegetables they should be relatively uniform in size so they cook consistently. Large chunks tossed in with small pieces will be raw while the smaller pieces over cooked. The small details like this are what separate an average cook from a good cook. Knowing the cooking temperatures, cooking times and knowing what spices enhance certain foods.
It takes some experimentation and the best time to practice with your children is now before something happens, and they literally need to know how to cook to save their lives.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). Retrieved 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/2011-foodborne-estimates.html
Lamagna, M. (2016). Retrieved 2017, from http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-millennials-dont-know-how-to-cook-2016-08-10
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