“From scratch” means different things to different people. Take pancakes for example. Some people might think if they make pancakes from a just-add-water pancake mix instead of buying frozen toaster pancakes, they’re making them from scratch.

Others might say, “No, a pancake mix doesn’t qualify as from scratch. You have to start with flour and add your own baking soda, salt, eggs, milk etc.”

Still others might say, “No, store-bought flour doesn’t qualify as from scratch. You have to mill your own wheat for it to really be from scratch.”

With this in mind, I read with interest KJ Dell’Antonia’s column Motherlode in The New York Times about her Home-Cooked Challenge. I’m a little late to the party here. She began her week-long experiment back in June. Her self-imposed challenge? To avoid packaged prepared foods and restaurant meals for a week – to do what most of us would call “cooking from scratch.”

I know that most of my regular readers are advocates of cooking for their families using healthy, quality ingredients instead of packaged foods, so many of you might be thinking, “A week? Big deal.” But, I have to say that I admire someone who is willing to take on this challenge. In the six years or so since I’ve changed the way my family eats, there haven’t been many weeks that have gone by that we haven’t ordered at least one pizza.

Making every meal, every day, for an entire week from scratch (however you define scratch) is definitely a challenge.

How did Dell’Antonia do with her challenge? In her wrap-up, she admitted that her issue wasn’t necessarily cooking, it was “planning for dinner, shopping for it, and getting it on the table in a timely manner.” To that I say, “Amen, sister.” More pizza has been ordered in my home because my cupboards looked like Old Mother Hubbards, not because I didn’t feel look cooking.

Dell’Antonia served healthy meals, some from pre-prepared (not pre-packaged) foods in her freezer. She made some meals completely from scratch and made other meals from leftovers. One night, the family ate at the farmers market (no judgment here — sounds like an awesome idea).

It seems she found what most of us with jobs, kids with their own schedules, and a desire to feed our family really well have found, it’s possible — most of the time. Sometimes, you eat at the farmers market, or order pizza, or make scrambled eggs with a side of fruit. If it only happens once a week, and you can avoid the fast-food drive thru, in my opinion you absolutely can call it a win. Good job, KJ.

Don't skip the comments

Her column pieces dealing with the challenges are a good read, but I have to say that it gets super interesting (and super time-sucking) when you read the comments section. She has people who are cheering her on and thanking her for being so open about this being a “challenge.” She has people who have questions. And then she has, as one commenter called them, the “Judgy McJudgersons.”

They think her approach is “too complicated,” and an example of “the perfect being the enemy of good.” Some people didn’t think she added enough fruit and vegetables. Some told her she needed to do “all things in moderation,” including feeding her family healthy meals. Her choice of using the words “prepared foods” was “confusing and vague.” And one overly-impressed-with-her/himself-commenter said, “What challenge? I get home from work around 6pm, and by 7 the latest we sit down to a dinner such as baked chicken, fish or pasta.”

I'm pretty sure I'd be reprimanded by my editor if I put in print my response to that last commenter.

Changing the cooking/eating habits of a family is incredibly challenging, but it’s a challenge worth tackling. I’ve been tackling it for over six years now, and when I think I’ve got things going well, new complications arise.

So for everyone who is attempting to do what Dell’Antonia did, I say, “keep up the good work.” And for anyone who wants to judge the complications that arise and the imperfections that happen, I’d like to encourage you to be encouraging instead of judgmental. The healthier-than-thou home cook attitude is not going to win anyone over. 

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Don't be a healthier-than-thou home cook
When a New York Times columnist took on the self-imposed challenge to cook her family's meals for a week, she opened herself up to the judgment of others.