Why Do People Think Cooking Is Hard?

Photo: Shutterstock.

Saturday night, I made homemade fish fingers and custard for my son and I to enjoy while we watched the midseason finale of “Doctor Who.” If you’re a fan of the show — otherwise known as a Whovian — you’ll understand why I made those seemingly unrelated foods for the the episode that saw the doctor saying goodbye to his companions Amy and Rory. If you’re not a fan, why I made them isn’t important. What’s important is that I made them from scratch instead of opening up a box of frozen fish sticks and peeling the lid off a pudding pack.

I’ve never made custard before, and technically I still haven’t. I chose to make vanilla pudding because I didn’t want to use all the eggs necessary for a true custard. Up until Saturday, I had never made homemade pudding before. When I was a kid growing up, my mom always made boxed Jell-O pudding. I thought that’s how everyone made pudding. When I got older, pudding came already made in snack packs. I didn’t even have to mix the powder from the box and milk.

I had no idea how easy it is to make pudding until Saturday, when I hunted down a recipe online. I’m not going to point you to the recipe, it wasn’t a keeper, but it did make a successful (if way too sweet) vanilla pudding. It took me all of 15 minutes to whisk together some milk, cornstarch, vanilla, sugar, salt and butter and another few hours for it to set in the refrigerator.

As I was whisking, I was reminded of something Laurie David, author of “The Family Dinner,” said to me last week when I was interviewing her for a magazine piece I’m writing. She said that we are “marketed and advertised to death to make us think cooking is hard.”

I had to wonder, where had I gotten the idea that pudding was hard to make? Somehow, I came to believe it. Maybe it was a subtle message I heard as a child because it wasn’t made from scratch in my home. Maybe Bill Cosby told me it when I was a teenager. (In the 1980s, Bill Cosby was a spokesperson for Jell-O.) Did Bill Cosby market and advertise me into thinking I couldn’t make pudding?

Pudding, it turns out, is a basic dessert that’s easy to make. But even though it's easy, as a culture we’ve been taught to believe cooking is hard, and we need foods to be as easy as possible to make because ... because why? We don’t have the skills? We don’t have the time? Our time is better spent doing something else?

I started thinking about all the things I make from scratch now that I didn’t five or 10 years ago.

  • Taco seasoning
  • Pizza sauce
  • Chicken Fingers and Mac & Cheese
  • Granola bars
  • Hummus
  • Ranch Dip

These are just a few things I rarely buy pre-made anymore. I can control the ingredients that go into these foods that my family eats frequently, making sure that they are healthier and don’t contain chemicals I don’t want in our food. They also all taste much better than their packaged versions. Sure, they take a little more time than their packaged counterparts, but in most cases just a few minutes more. And, they are all very easy to make. There is nothing listed above that the average home cook can’t make without cooking classes.

Next time you’re making your shopping list, think about what’s on that list that you can make yourself. Take a few minutes to research what it would take to make it from scratch instead of buying it pre-made. Pick one of the items on your list, and buy the ingredients to make it from scratch. Pick just one thing. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do everything at first. I bet you’ll be successful. The next week, pick another item. Before you know it, you’ll have lots of ingredients and very few ready-made foods on hand, but you’ll be eating healthier, more environmentally friendly, and enjoying your food a lot more.

What do you make from scratch now that in the past, you’ve bought pre-made? Why is it worth it to you?

Tease photo of frustrated cook: Shutterstock