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Off the Eaten Path: Are home-cooked meals here to stay? I sure hope so

'I must admit, this Italian foodie participated in all the trends, except of course, the feta pasta'

Prior to March of 2020, homemade cooking may have been something that North American households only practiced some of the time.

In an interview with retail insider Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of agri-foods analytics at Dalhousie University of Halifax, he said before the pandemic Canadians spent 35 per cent of their food budget on restaurants.

We can assume this has gotten better due a worldwide pandemic that caused us to develop some habits that may be better in the long run for our physical health, mental wellness and our pocket books. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been so many food trends such as bread-baking, canning, homemade pizza and garden focaccia. And let’s not forget TikTok feta pasta.

I must admit, this Italian foodie participated in all the trends, except of course, the feta pasta.   

The perfect combination of more family time at home, restaurant lockdowns and fewer trips out in the public meant more opportunities to cook at home. This is great news all around. I am a firm believer that home-cooked meals do a lot more than just provide wholesome nutrition. 

Home-cooked meals are typically less expensive, healthier and lower in fat. 

If multiple members of the household participate in meal prep and cleanup, it can be quality family time as well. It’s a perfect teaching moment for parents and children. After all, cooking is a life skill, just like money management or countless other things parents teach their children. 

Tips to keep cooking at home

Now that things are starting to return to normal with office workers headed back to the office, business travel picking up and extracurricular activities returning to in-person, what can families do to keep up the momentum? 

Something as simple as making coffee daily at home rather than picking up your morning Joe is a good place to start. Brown-bagging lunch might be another easy way to keep up the good work.

In our house, we always cook extra portions of our dinner entrees for simple heat and serve lunches throughout the week. My kids have been known to even fight over them. It’s not much more work to cook six portions instead of four. 

So what about dinner? 

When things return to the pre-pandemic lifestyle, families may have one or more adults commuting to work again and evening activities may be back in full swing. 

Plan, plan and plan some more 

When all my children were still at home, as a mother of four very active children, I started planning my weekly dinners every Sunday. I wrote them on the family calendar and made sure the fridge was stocked with all the ingredients at the beginning of the week. If we had an exceptionally busy night, I would make dinner a few nights before with enough left over to feed us again. It could be Sunday roast chicken dinner and then hot chicken sandwiches on Tuesday before we ran off to the baseball diamond, soccer field etc. 

Remember those cooking skills you taught your kids during lockdown? 

Now is the time to cash in on those. Having a teenager boil water and add the pasta while you run an errand can mean the difference between having dinner on the table 30 minutes earlier. 

Personally, I would make a big batch of pasta sauce and freeze it for quick weeknight dinners. Thaw it in the fridge the night before. 

All these things can help, but let’s face it, stuff happens! The odd boxed pizza or canned soup is not going to hurt anyone but if you make a huge pot of soup and freeze batches for those days to have with the pizza, well that’s somewhat healthier.  

Maybe we can get the best of both?

I just discovered two Downtown Guelph restaurants that pivoted to meal kits during the pandemic lockdowns and they seem to be here to stay.  

Piatto offers pizza, spaghetti and salad kits (pizza kits also available at their retail partners). How fun is that? Rather than ordering pizza, get everything you need to make delicious, restaurant-quality pizza at home. The family can still enjoy that camaraderie in the kitchen without the stress.

How about tasty, authentic ramen? Crafty Ramen offers fresh dumplings and ramen kits (frozen also available at their retail partners). Buy just one or become a subscriber so this is a regular menu at home. Easy, with simple step-by-step instructions on their website. Ramen can be on the table in only 15 minutes! 

In a perfect world we could all resume our normal busy lifestyles and continue to cook the majority of our meals at home. So, how about we just enjoy more made at home meals and fewer meals prepared outside the home? Buon appetito!