Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Overcoming Your Cooking Obstacles, Part II: So, Your Family Doesn’t Cook

A few months ago, CHG posted a piece called Overcoming Your Cooking Obstacles, discussing why folks avoid their own kitchens. I argued that cooking is imperative to saving cash (because you spend less) and eating healthier (because you have control), and then presented some strategies for conquering common culinary fears.

Sadly, there’s an obstacle I missed. A big one. Maybe the biggest one of all.

What if your family doesn’t cook? What if they never did? What if they don’t want to, either?

At first, this may seem like a problem easily solved. “Suck it up and get going,” you might hear. “This is your journey, not theirs.” Boo, I say. Boo. That response ignores the cultural, behavioral, and environmental factors inherent in family issues. Especially ones dealing with food.

I understand. My grandma lived until I was 30. She was wonderful and smart as hell, but in the three decades we hung out, I never saw her roast, chop, or heat a single victual. My parents hold their own, but don’t consider cooking a particularly thrilling activity. (With the exception of Ma’s masterful Christmas cookies. I got your back, Ma.) My sister would rather hit herself in the head with a mallet than sauté something.

And this is totally okay. Yeah, sometimes I envy my Italian friends, who seem to have the recipe for red sauce imprinted in their DNA. But family is family, and you can’t will them into the kitchen. To borrow a support-group adage phrase, I can only change myself. Same goes for everybody.

In the meantime, here are some tips for co-existing with your kitchen-resistant kin. The tricks should make learning to cook a little easier, and might even get your live-in relations involved in the process. We’d love to hear more ideas, too, so don’t forget to have your say in the comment section.

Avoid pointing fingers.
Though a lack of cooking skillz is nobody's fault per se, it’s tempting to blame that gap in knowledge on those who neglected to teach. Alas, this road leads only to ruin. (Weird, passive-aggressive ruin.) Instead of wasting time with accusations and bad feelings, concentrate on the positive. You’re about to discover a delicious new world, and it’s going to be a fabulous journey.

Realize there’s only so much you can control.
You may begin to cook hoping it will alter your family’s eating habits. If this works out, go you! If it doesn’t, no worries. Dietary behaviors are pretty ingrained, and you can’t force people to transform themselves. (They may not want to, anyway. It’s a bit presumptuous to think so.) Work on your own situation, and shrug off non-constructive criticism as best you can.

Observe friends.
If you’re itching to cook, but can’t learn at home, look to your social circle for help. Hang out with pals who enjoy tooling around the kitchen. Watch their parents as they prepare meals. Ask if you can participate. It’s free, and odds are the observed will be flattered.

Volunteer to make meals at home.
Learning to cook is a hands-on activity. By stepping in to handle dinner, you’re gaining valuable experience AND alleviating your family of a chore. If they’re happy with the results, they might even do the dishes. And that, my friends, is the greatest gift of all.

Make cooking a group activity.
When it comes to exercise, I am strictly a team sports kind of girl. Treadmills bore my face off, but I’ll play softball until the apocalypse. The same may be true of your family and meal prep. So, try choosing dishes that require group assembly, like burritos or personal pizzas. The more fun you have, the better. It could inspire you to keep going, and spark kitchen interest in someone else.

Ask a family member to show you how to prepare his/her specialty.
If crowds aren’t your thing, go one on one. Even the most clueless of cooks has one decent meal in his/her repertoire, and it’s likely he/she will be thrilled to share. Again, you’ll gain experience, and maybe make a happy memory.

Watch a cooking show together.
Do you know someone who doesn’t give a flying you-know-what about food, until they see Giada DeLaurentiis making it? Yeah, me too. While TV might not propel loved ones into the kitchen, it can get the conversation rolling.

Try new food.
If your family members are daring types (though not necessarily cooks themselves), try bringing unusual fruit or vegetables home. My parents discovered persimmons this way, and now it’s a healthy food we can all eat together. If you’re feeling really saucy, make it a contest: whoever buys the weirdest, tastiest edible wins … a nickel? A DVD? A pony? Whatever reward suits your brood the best.

With that, I hand it over to you guys. What are some other ways to deal with a cooking-adverse family?


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(Photo courtesy of Where is the Outrage?)

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