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Cabarrus Magazine

Home Cooking: Follow Your Taste Buds

Sep 01, 2017 08:30AM ● By Jason Huddle

Home Cooking: Follow Your Taste Buds

“A recipe has no soul. You as the cook must bring soul to the recipe.” 

  - Thomas Keller

The home cooked meal is becoming an endangered species in the U.S. Those of us who grew up with an amazing grandmother and/or mother who enjoyed cooking likely carry on the practice, especially if memorable family recipes are handed down.

Many born into the Millennial generation – between 1981 and ’94 – however, have grown up with both parents in the workforce. There was no one at home in the kitchen teaching them how to cook. 

“Now we are finding out that they are living with their parents. They don’t have the initiative to go out and find a little apartment and grow a tomato plant on the terrace,” according to Martha Stewart. Ouch.

Modern technology might be one solution to a potential fear of the frying pan for these younger Americans. Online recipes and You Tube videos are entering the kitchen in place of the cookbook. Add to these the plethora of television cooking shows. Still, “Less than 60 percent of suppers served at home were actually cooked at home last year (2014). Only 30 years ago, the percentage was closer to 75 percent,” according to Harry Balzer, an analyst at NPD Group, a market research group that studied the eating habits of 2,000 households over 30 years.

“This is one of those downward trends to watch,” he adds. “At the current rate, less than half of all dinners eaten at home in this country will be homemade.” And the numbers are basically even for all economic groups looking for convenience foods.

“Between the mid-1960s and late 2000s, low-income households went from eating at home 95 percent of the time to only 72 percent of the time, middle-income households went from eating at home 92 percent of the time to 69 percent of the time, and high-income households went from eating at home 88 percent of the time to only 65 percent of the time,” according to the NPD Group.

Companies like HelloFresh, Blue Apron and Plated are profiting off this as well, touting fresh, nutritional ingredients and, ironically, supplying a recipe card. The pluses? There are no wasted ingredients; the exact amount you need is supplied. You don’t have to go to the grocery store, a time saver. And they’re tasty. The minuses? The cost – typically between $10 and $14 per person. The other is the amount of sodium called for. Some recipes contain nearly 800 mg. of sodium, about a third of the maximum daily intake recommended.

Even grocery stores are in on the act, offering deli sandwiches, salad bars, rotisserie chicken, etc. “All we need now is the drive-through supermarket,” Balzer says.

While fast food restaurants are certainly convenient, we all know the repercussions from that convenience. “Consumption of food prepared away from home plays an increasingly large role in the American diet. In 1970, 25.9 percent of all food spending was on food away from home; by 2012, that share rose to its highest level of 43.1 percent. A number of factors contributed to the trend of increased dining out since the 1970s, including a larger share of women employed outside the home, more two-earner households, higher incomes, more affordable and convenient fast food outlets, increased advertising and promotion by large food service chains, and the smaller size of U.S. households,” the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says. 

“The prevalence of obesity and overweight has increased dramatically in the United States since the mid-1970s, and nearly two of three adult Americans are either overweight or obese.

“Between 1977 and ’78, and 2005 and ‘08, U.S. consumption of food prepared away from home increased from 18 to 32 percent of total calories. Meals and snacks based on food prepared away from home contained more calories per eating occasion than those based on at-home food. Away-from-home food was also higher in nutrients that Americans overconsume (such as fat and saturated fat) and lower in nutrients that Americans under-consume (calcium, fiber and iron).”

The Cabarrus Health Alliance was formed 20 years ago, replacing the Cabarrus County Health Department. Serving as the public health authority for the county, it has a staff of more than 215,

providing 70-plus services and programs that include clinical services like dental and breast health; environmental health; disease prevention; and nutrition assistance and education. 

Meghan Charpentier, MS, MPH, serves as CHA program coordinator. In that capacity, she works to educate and inspire residents of Cabarrus County with regard to simple, healthy recipes that can be prepared at home.

With a master’s degree in nutrition, Charpentier oversees cooking classes in the CHA’s wellness kitchen. Gleaning interesting recipes from the Internet and print, she modifies them to a higher standard of nutritional value. 

 “I’ve been here for four years and they were offering cooking classes before then. At that time, classes were offered when there was funding. Then we saw the need and people wanted the classes, so we started offering them. Prep time, shopping time, cooking time and clean-up time add up to more than you think, but we do get funding with different grant dollars.

“These classes are part of our bigger wellness initiative. We have three other instructors that we rotate through. They are master’s in nutrition students but locally, here. They have the skill and expertise to lead these classes. Recipes still come through me and I sign off on them.”

With a focus on nutrition, Charpentier says she’s a “home-grown chef.” Choosing what recipes she’d like to offer her classes, she first tries them out on her family. “I work with minimal ingredients, taking those recipes and simplifying them. They are a template or a guide. I call it plug and play. I get inspiration from different avenues online,” she explains.

So what Charpentier does is jazz up basic recipes with herbs, spices and imagination. And with a longer growing season here in Cabarrus County than in other parts of the country, fresh ingredients can often be incorporated. 

While her recipes are gluten-free, sodium-free, contain very little meat (alternative meat proteins like black beans are used), are a plus for diabetics and utilize seasonal fruits and vegetables, she shies away from labeling her classes as such. “They’re more vegetarian cooking classes. Yes, they’re diabetic and gluten-free but people tend to not sign up for classes that say that.”

Gluten-free is a term we’re hearing more and more in recent years, but what is it? “A gluten-free diet does not include the grains wheat, barley, rye or hybrids of these grains,” says. “This includes all varieties and forms of these grains, such as spelt (a type of wheat) and malt (made from barley).”

All of these grains contain a protein called gluten. And people suffering from celiac disease – an autoimmune disease – experience serious damage to the lining of the small intestine when gluten prevents nutrients from being properly absorbed.

“We always ask when people sign up if they have food allergies,” Charpentier says. “There is no cross-contamination. It’s about customizing and we encourage people to cook at home.”

Rice, corn, millet, sorghum, wild rice, teff (grain from Ethiopia), buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth do not contain gluten and are great replacement options. Grocery stores continue to expand their gluten-free product offerings, making it easier for Charpentier to broaden her recipe collection.

So, whether or not you have past cooking experience, give it a try. Practice truly does make perfect and there’s a lot of fun to be had along the way.

Cabarrus Health Alliance is offering three cooking classes in September: on the 7th, 12th and 16th; the fee is $10 per person. Recipes are not announced ahead of time. 

“We can offer specialty classes for anyone, and usually get requests from Girl Scouts, church groups, workplaces, etc., and can put together a stand-alone class for them,” Charpentier adds. “We can also offer classes in Spanish.”

September’s classes will use fresh fall favorites with in-season produce. For more information, visit classes or call Charpentier at 704-920-1324. To view past recipes, visit

Article by Kim Cassell

Photos Courtesy: Cabarrus Health Alliance


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