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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

What does home cooking look like in the 21st century?

Family cooking together

How often is everything served at a meal in your home made 100% from scratch? What does that term even mean today? We certainly don’t kill and pluck the turkey before preparing it.

With the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. just behind us, I thought about this question as I prepared some menu items from “scratch” while for others I took advantage of time-saving convenience items.

What do we mean by scratch versus convenience?

I rolled out my own homemade pie crusts (that’s scratch), but I have often used the refrigerator crusts ready to put in your pie pan and fill (that’s convenience).

The pumpkin in my pie was canned (convenient), not scooped out of a whole pumpkin (scratch).

I made mashed potatoes using fresh potatoes (scratch), but I often use instant or even heat and serve (convenient).

Am I the norm or the exception? Let’s take a look…

Trends in home cooking… at Thanksgiving and throughout the year.

Nostalgia is mixed with convenience with home cooks preparing traditional favorites made easier. For example, the largest spike in food brand purchases prior to Thanksgiving is for Stove Top Stuffing, a product developed back in 1953 by a fellow Purdue alumna, Ruth Siems.

Recipe inspiration may still be passed along from friends or family but comes mostly from online searches and social media. We favor healthier ingredients and search for easy plant-based recipes. We avoid pricey or hard-to-find ingredients.

Convenience remains a top priority and we look to time-saving appliances like air fryers to help. We avoid complicated recipes and incorporate sensible convenience items like pasta sauce or canned beans.

Simplicity is also key, making one-pot and one-pan meals popular.

Flavor is important and experimenting with new flavors and cultural foods is popular.

A little Thanksgiving cooking humor…

The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line staff has an archive of memorable calls, highlighting how challenging roasting a turkey can be:

  • A trucker asked about cooking his turkey on the engine of his truck: "Will it cook faster if I drive faster?"

  • A Kentucky woman called the Turkey Talk-Line because her Chihuahua had jumped into the bird's body cavity and couldn't get out.  She tried pulling the dog and shaking the bird, but nothing worked.  She and the dog became more and more distraught.  After calming the woman down, the Talk-Line home economist suggested carefully cutting the opening in the cavity of the turkey wider.  It worked!

  • A caller wondered, "How do you thaw a fresh turkey?" The Talk-Line staffer explained that fresh turkeys aren't frozen and don't need to be thawed.

  • A West Coast caller took turkey preparation to extremes by scrubbing her bird with bleach.  Afterward, she called the Talk-Line to find out how to clean off the bleach.  To her dismay, she was advised to dispose of the turkey. (Not washing is what’s recommended.)

  • A novice home cook wanted to know if the yellow netting and wrapper around the turkey should be removed before roasting.  Envisioning a melted plastic turkey blob, the home economist responded, "Yes," then offered complete roasting directions.

How can nutrition professionals help?

Nutrition professionals such as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) are uniquely trained in both nutrition and food science to help consumers learn how to prepare quick, easy, delicious, and nutritious meals all year long. There are a variety of ways RDNs can help:

  • Working with food brands to develop easy-to-follow, fail-safe recipes.

  • Creating recipes and sharing via online platforms and social media.

  • Creating and posting cooking tutorials on websites and YouTube.

  • Hosting in-person and online cooking classes.

  • Participating in research to better understand the impact of cooking interventions.

How can you make a difference and promote home cooking, whatever that means or looks like?

“Thanksgiving is the meal we aspire for other meals to resemble.” ~ Jonathan Safran Foer

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