If Big Mama Could See Me Now

What I've Learned About Life From Cooking at Home

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Girl, I'll probably take some heat for this, but I'm going to say it anyway: Far too many of us view cooking as subservient. We -- and I can say that because I was once one of you -- proudly tell prospective husbands that we don't do cooking.

As I got older and bolder, I would boast to Big Mama, my grandmother, that I wasn't going to "slave" in the kitchen for anybody. If my man wants a meal, he can cook it himself, I told her. She would shake her head in disapproval.

I was sadly, selfishly wrong. What I didn't think about was the family I'd have one day: Who was going to prepare home-cooked meals for them?

Certainly, fathers cook. But I get it now. I understand the nurturing that happens when a parent -- especially a mom -- cooks and serves a meal.

Studies and statistics support the effort. Compared with teens who frequently eat dinner with their families, those who rarely sit down to family meals are 3 1/2 times as likely to have abused prescription drugs or an illegal drug other than marijuana, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

As it happens, the recession has forced many families to cut back on eating out. The number of restaurant visits in the United States has been trending down since the first quarter of 2006, decreasing as much as 10 percent during one quarter last year, according to Decision Analyst, a Dallas-Fort Worth marketing research and consulting firm.

Because I write The Post's Color of Money personal finance column, I've seen the high cost of eating out. Dozens of readers regularly tell me that their budgets get busted by frequent restaurant visits.

If you shop well, you can cook at home for less money. But there's another important benefit and blessing that is priceless: Having family meals at the same time, at the same table is a way to keep the family healthy and close. I just wish I had understood that earlier in my marriage and motherhood.

Some of the best times I've had in my home with my kids and husband have occurred around the preparation or consumption of a meal. We have to teach our children how to cook, so they can cook for their families and minister to their needs.

I'm thankful that I finally appreciate the bond created by cooking for my family. I love to cook now. But my biggest regret as a mother of three is that I didn't learn more from my grandmother, who tried to teach me before she died, in 1995. (Of course, she never wrote down any of her recipes.) I wish I could re-create her delicious chicken and dumplings. I think my husband married me, in part, because he thought I could make that dish, which she served him many times while he was courting me. (She knew what she was doing.)

When Big Mama died, my home became the place the family gathered for Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. The holiday meals keep us tethered as an extended family.

I will forever remember the first Thanksgiving meal I made for my new husband and members of his family. The turkey was juicy and not overdone. The string beans, collard greens and macaroni and cheese turned out fine. I cooked the whole menu from memory of what my grandmother did.

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