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What your Mom did cook when she didn't do a lot of "from scratch" cooking.

Hi all.

My mom wasn't much of a cook when I was growing up and still to this day doesn't really enjoy cooking. So as a result she never really did a lot of experimenting or making anything new for us kids. One of my most vivid memories was when my mom would add things to boxed meals, particularly hamburger helper. She liked to toss in a can of vegetables or slice up an onion and call it a day.

Now that I'm a Mom myself I do a lot more home-made cooking and will on occasion get the odd request for a boxed meal. Particularly from my son. For some reason this riles me a bit as I pride myself on being a pretty good cook. So in an effort to appease both him and myself I will make the occasional boxed meal. Funny in my effort to "juice" it up I will add fresh components to make it more tasty.... I sometimes catch myself from doing too much of a "Sandra Lee" on something that is best left in its original boxed state....

Anyone care to comment or add their two cents from their childhood experiences? Am very curious to see if anyone else had a Mom that didn't really like cooking.

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  1. She would cut up a few chicken breasts (the kind that come frozen in a giant bag) into cubed pieces and saute with some Pam. She would also make a package of chicken rice a roni. Then, she would mix the two together. That was dinner. I actually still like it though...a good comfort food for me.

    She also would do something similar with a bag of the frozen stir fry vegetables and some teriyaki sauce, add in the chicken, and serve on a bed of rice. Again, not really that bad.

    She also liked to do a taco salad that I hated but everyone else seemed to like (although to this day I don't know why)... canned beans, cooked ground beef, tomatoes, frito chips, and lettuce. The lettuce was always limp because of the liquid from the rest of the ingredients. Also there wasn't a whole lot of "taco" flavor involved.

    It's all kind of weird because my mom is actually a pretty good and knowledgeable cook, I can call her when I have questions. I have vague memories of when I was much younger when she stayed at home, and she had an extensive vegetable garden and always cooked from scratch, aside from things like fish sticks. But after I started school, she went back to work in a hospital on her feet all day, and probably was just too tired to put together anything from scratch. I also think my brother and I were picky eaters so instead of arguing with us, she would just make things she knew we liked over and over.

    5 Replies
    1. re: juliejulez

      Mine would do something similar with Ramen. She'd cut up chicken and saute it and then add it to ramen with broccoli and celery. I still like it ... it does make it more like real food and the other additions help make it less salty to the mouth.

      1. re: juliejulez

        My mom made a similar taco salad only she seasoned the meat and there were a few more ingredients (onions, black olives, maybe grated cheese?). And tortilla chips not fritos. It was an easy summer dinner and I liked it alot. Might need to make that myself.

        She wasn't much of a boxed mix gal.

        1. re: tcamp

          Our taco salad was ground beef with cooked with onion soup mix, cheese, lettuce, onions/scallions, and Fritos, drizzled with Italian dressing.. Salsa and olives were available to add afterwards, because I wouldn't eat it with them in there.

          I know the dressing makes it sound nasty, but I still make it on occasion today. One of my favourite childhood foods.

        2. re: juliejulez

          My Mom's taco salad was iceberg lettuce, drained ranch style beans, olives, diced onions, taco seasoned ground beef, cheese, fritos and catalina dressing.


          1. re: juliejulez

            My BFF used to make that Frito 'taco salad', with a red sweet salad dressing called Western Dressing.
            I would choke it down like a good pal, while hoping she would stop making it someday.

          2. I grew up eating Hamburger Helper meals. Mom was creative in how she made Kraft Mac & Cheese including adding tuna, or ground beef and onions, or my favorite cream of chicken soup, tomato soup, ground beef and black olives to a box of Kraft. It made this casserole'ish dish. I still love it. hah! She also made "Gravy Train" which was just ground beef cooked up and a packet of brown gravy added to it and served over rice of mashed potatoes.

            My Mom still doesn't like cooking much. I grew up eating overcooked food that was heavily salted. My parents still don't really appreciate good food and freak out if food is not well done they are convinced they will die if the food isn't completely tough and shoe leather.

            Oh well.

            1 Reply
            1. re: eperdu

              My in-laws are very similar (although there are a lot of dishes my mother in law can cook well). My husband grew up eating a lot of kraft dinner with ground beef added in. Boxed dinners were always a convenient thing that was achievable on a small budget. Unfortunately I think they are the reason my husband probably uses excessive salt on his food.

              My parents did give me some frozen foods, fish cake, chicken nuggets. They also tended to use jar sauces to save time. We did eat a lot of vegetables though and fresh untampered cuts of meat and fish. If we had pudding, it was usually a homemade crumble and quite often using fruit we had picked ourselves.

            2. My mom is an awful cook, and uses many prepared foods to minimize the time spent cooking and decrease the likelihood that she's screw up too badly.
              Some weeknight dinners were sloppy joes, which was canned sloppy joes mix (including the ground meat) on hamburger buns. Mac and cheese was either from a kraft box or the frozen section. Honestly, the closest to homemade she got was her apple pie, and she always purchased a pie tin with the crust already in it. When she did try to make food from scratch, she'd invariably overcook it or screw up the seasoning. I don't know why, but she's completely incapable of making any sort of substitution. Every now and then, it'll come out okay, when her mistakes cancel. She recently made pumpkin soup with canned pie mix rather than canned pumpkin, but she also didn't want to bother chopping up onion, so it was okay, although really just diluted pumpkin pie filling.

              But yeah... I grew up thinking so, so many things came from the freezer section. My grandma was the one who exposed me to actual food, although it tended to be simple.

              1. My mom worked too and hated cooking. I was raised on Hamburger Helper, Tuna Helper (otherwise known as puke on a plate), Rice a Roni and, on a special night, Shake n Bake chicken. She gave up altogether once I was about 12 and it was frozen dinners ( Elio's Pizza was a favorite) or peanut butter from then on. Thankfully, we ate at my grandparents' house a couple nights a week.

                1. My Mom always has been a horrible cook and hates it. But at least she used to cook from scratch. We never had boxed Mac and Cheese, etc. The only thing not from scratch she cooked was when she opened up a can of spinach and heated. Growing up on the farm we always had our own beef, ducks, chickens, turkeys, pigs, milk, butter, vegetables, fish and game (Dad was a hunter and fisherman) etc. so we started out with wonderful ingredients. Too bad the dishes didn't end up that way. :( Then I stepped in. Hee hee...

                  Mom always baked our breads and buns for school lunches. She was (and is) very good at that.

                  1. My mom didn't (and doesn't) really enjoy cooking, so she had a few standbys that she rotated through, with takeout often ordered for a change of pace. Her rotation included:

                    -"chicken, broccoli, cheese" - casserole with b/s chicken breast, cream of mushroom soup, broccoli, cheddar cheese, milk, and chopped onion, baked together with cooked egg noodles. We loved this, but I did eventually get sick of it.
                    -tuna casserole
                    -teriyaki beef - usually a London Broil or similar marinated in bottled sauce and then baked, served with rice
                    -macaroni and cheese - made with Velveeta
                    -scrambled eggs with cream cheese
                    -pan-fried kielbasa
                    -fettuccine alfredo made with half and half, romano cheese, butter, and parsley
                    -creamed chipped beef over refrigerator biscuits

                    And we had our share of hamburger helper and Ragu over spaghetti. Most of the cooking was simple, so my brother and I helped out.

                    When I was younger, my mom would often make big Sunday meals like baked roasts, but she eventually stopped doing that. My favorite meal was her "lemon chicken", which was b/s chicken tenders marinated in fresh lemon juice, then breaded and fried in a butter/oil combination. Really good! That was always my birthday request.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ChristinaMason

                      This thread reminded me that she was also into American tacos (crispy shells, seasoned ground beef, cheddar, iceberg, chopped tomato), which my father hated and we only had when he was not around for dinner. And on her "no cook" nights, she'd get the fixings for Italian cold cut hoagies, which were always a favorite.

                    2. I don't think my mom dislikes cooking, but Dad never allowed her much of a grocery budget, he made snotty comments about dinner, and at least some (myself included) of the five kids were picky. I'm sure this quickly sapped any joy she might have taken from cooking.

                      We had a lot of Hamburger Helper, for sure. Kraft mac (partially because that's one of the only things I would eat.) Lots of Rice-a-Roni and co, Shake'n'Bake chicken (though that seemed to be phased out by the time I was about 10).

                      Even if it didn't come out of a box, it was largely prepackaged. Canned cream of whatever soups in the chicken and rice casserole, etc. To this day, she uses frozen veggie mixes for her stir-fry. Yuck!

                      The one thing she always did from scratch and took pride in was the pool kogi (bulgogi, however you want to spell it). And that was always bangin'.

                      1. My mom always hated cooking too. So much so that holidays were miserable. After my step dad died she stopped doing it entirely and now goes to whoever's house suits her fancy.

                        She was, however, an excellent frier. Fried chicken, shrimp, fish, you name it she was good at it. That was often our Thanksgiving meal. We did not grow up in a turkey and dressing household.

                        Some of her stand bys I remember are :

                        Gravy Steak - That pre-tenderized beef cooked in a can of mushroom soup served over rice. I really liked that one back then.

                        Baked pork chops and baked potatoes. Dad liked meat cooked to death so the fat on the chop was actually crispy and the meat was so dry !!

                        Hamburger Helper

                        Tuna Casserole

                        Hash - Her version was ground beef with potatoes and onions. That's it. Just a pile of it on the plate. Oh how I hated the smell of that stuff. To this day I can't stand chili fries or any type of thing that combines ground beef and fried potatoes.

                        To her defense the spaghetti was pretty good. As was the chicken fricassee. But normal every day cooking was pretty dismal.

                        She, like many women today, just didn't like to cook. I suppose coming home at the end of a work day and cooking was just the last straw. It's never been that way for me - but to each her own.

                        I do have some favorites from her rep. Whipped potatoes, cucumber salad, roast rice and gravy, fricassee, grilled cheese (LOL), etc. But most of those were special occasion dishes. Weeknight dinners, and most weekend dinners, were simply fuel. And we weren't poor.

                        I, myself, am so grateful to have a deep freezer now. We haven't always had one but it sure does solve the problem of, "What's for dinner?" Especially after a long hard day when I don't feel like cooking. I feel lucky, though, that I enjoy cooking so much. Even though I have the same lifestyle, if not harder, than mom's. I find cooking an invigorating, creative thing. No accounting for taste!

                        1. My mom simply did not cook savory food,she was the sweets,pastries from scratch parent and had no interest in getting a protein and vegetable "meal" on the table except Sunday Dinner.My father was the 100% from scratch savory cook as were me and sibs early on.
                          When anyone was lazy,on strike or too busy the go to meal was eggs of some sort.Mom on days like that would have been content with bread,cheese and absolutely horrid canned asparagus.No one else could even get the canned asparagus past our noses.

                          1. My mom hated cooking. So much so, she didn't even prepare boxed meals, that was way too much work.

                            I am not exaggerating when I say she only cooked two meals a year and that was only as a treat for my dad and my grandparents.

                            All other meals were frozen dinners - Lean Cuisine, frozen pizzas, etc. She would study the sale papers and clear out entire sections of the freezer case when her favorites when on sale. We had four commercial sized chest freezers in the garage.

                            I am the complete opposite and I have no idea how that happened.

                            1. My mom was, and is, a good cook. We ate lots of home cooked meals, but upon occasion we would have something boxed. I think it is due to the era when some of this stuff was considered "fancy." I remember Shake & Bake and I know we had taco nights using the hard taco shells from the box and the seasoning packet. She used Ricearoni and those pasta packages now made by Knorr.

                              Kraft Mac and Cheese was a treat for the kids when mom and dad went out. The other treat? Those packages of frozen boil in a bag meats with gravy that you heat in the pouch in a pot of water and then cut open and put over toast.

                              And I have to confess to having a few of those Knorr packages in my pantry. The kids make them sometimes when they want a snack.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Disneyfreak

                                I remember those meat bags! The turkey ones were a staple in my house except I put it over minute rice. There was always an element of danger when cutting open the bag. Would I get burned by the steam or the hot gravy?

                                1. re: cleobeach

                                  Hmm -- we never put it over rice. I'll bet I would have liked it that way too. The white bread was the best part -- it got all soggy from the gravy.

                                  I remember it was from Banquet.

                                  1. re: Disneyfreak

                                    The white bread was the best part -- it got all soggy from the gravy.
                                    I remember hamburger pea gravy served over white bread (not by my mother) and I hated the way the bread turned to mush.

                              2. While my mother did cook from scratch or "psueudo" scratch many days a week, the off the shelf stuff included Hamburger Helper, canned chicken and dumplings over Pilsbury biscuits, the dreaded canned chicken chow mein (along with the canned chow mein crunchy noodles), the occasional Banquet TV dinner, and on Friday's, the canned soup, canned peas and canned tuna version of the Tuna Noodle casserole over egg noodles. Ragu' brand jarred pasta sauce over spaghetti was also a staple with browned ground beef added as an extender and in the rotation.

                                It was almost "split cooking personality disorder" as she whipped up a beef roast with fried potatoes and a veg , swiss steak, home made salibury steaks or the occasional home made lasagna many times a month. Even meat loaf with home made mashed potatoes and steamed peas.

                                I still can't even bear to look at the La Choy canned chow meins or the Sweet Sue canned chicken and dumplings when at the grocery store even to this day. . LOL.---But true.

                                She finally moved up to frozen boil in bag veggies instead of canned vegetables at some point and my love of veggies was born. Hey-sometiems a "crutch" is a saving grace, right?

                                1. It wasn't mom but pop who did the cooking. Occasionally we'd be treated to Swanson's TV dinners - when you're a little kid, that kind of thing is a treat. The ones I remember are turkey and meat loaf.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: John Francis

                                    We got Swanson TV dinners when our parents went out and a babysitter was on duty. It was a huge treat. My favorite was the swiss steak.

                                  2. While my mother was primarily a from scratch cook and indeed an experimenter in the kitchen, I recall that we would on occasion have TV dinners. They were a favorite (at least of mine). I am sure that we also had commercial pot pies - I still like them, now that they may be made in a microwave

                                    Just noticed John Francis' post above. I'm sure the brand we had was Swanson's also.

                                    1. The perfect all out of a can meal. Tuna casserole. For a special treat, she would crumble potato chips on top. Served on egg noodles. Rice was for Chinese out of a can nights. Boxed and ready cooked meals didn't appear until I left home and she got a part time job for pin money and to keep busy.

                                      1. My mom cooked a lot from scratch - so, in a way, I get the packaged meal requests. There was something exciting about those meals I'd have at other people's houses! I still have fond memories of when I had my first hamburger helper, creamy ground beef casserole, etc. at friends or at my uncles house, his wife was born in America and made the BEST casseroles! Ha!

                                        What my mom did do - because, well, it's not like the Dutch are known for their spaghetti ;) She would buy a huge jug of a red carlos rossi wine and she would take two jars of, I think, Prego and fill each emptied jar w/ say 1/2 cup of wine and shake them to get all the sauce out and she'd dump bone in, skinless chicken pieces or bone in pork chops in the sauce and just cook it forever on the stove. I LOVED that.

                                        My sister just reminded me of another she did with condensed tomato soup. She would slice an onion, leave pieces in rings, and saute them in butter and add pork chops and then dump tomato soup over them and we ate that with mashed potatoes.

                                        It just goes to show, kids are easy to please... now, as adults, many of us have such clear memories of moms quick and easy suppers and long for those quick comfort foods that mom seemed to make best. I simply am unable to recreate her dishes exactly. I don't know why...aside from product recipe adjustments over the years, I imagine.

                                        1. I don't have any memories of packaged food when we were small children. Both of my parents like to cook (and both are excellent cooks with different styles so together it was a well rounded food household.) Neither of my parents eat prepackaged food to this day- they don't like it and neither of them have ever considered making dinner to be a chore. They took turns cooking and they cooked together. The kitchen was always the gathering place in the house.

                                          I think it was when we were teenagers, our parents divorced and my sister and I got to do the grocery shopping that the world of prepackaged food was introduced to us. We finally got to have frozen dinners and as many boxes of Mac and Cheese as we wanted!

                                          It was short lived- we were both totally made from scratch cooks by the time we were in our 20s. I guess we just had to visit the dark side before we appreciated what we grew up with.

                                          1. I never tasted a fresh vegetable until I was an adult. Mom boiled bags of frozen vegetables or heated up the canned variety. With the exception of fresh meat, poultry and fish, everything she cooked came from a box, can, jar or pouch. She actually thought these things were superior to lowly home cooking from scratch and boasted that her instant mashed potatoes never had lumps. (So what if they tasted like paste.)

                                            She liked to "doctor up" processed foods, adding a can of tomatoes to the Kraft mac and cheese. She had a long list of things she added to canned beans, including ketchup, brown sugar, onion powder and Worcestershire sauce.

                                            Her "good beef stew" was made with fresh cubes of chuck, and it got that unique metallic taste from the addition of canned potatoes as well as other canned vegetables.

                                            She often baked chicken breasts coated with "low-cal" Italian dressing. The chemical odor in the kitchen was formidable.

                                            Her "pepper steak" was strips of top round cooked for an hour in the electric frying pan swimming in a bottle of some salty, treacly sauce. A big bag of frozen peppers and onions went in toward the end. All this was served over Minute Rice.

                                            I could go on, but it's nearly time for lunch.

                                            1. My mom came to the USA in her late teens from southern Italy. We visited Italy when I was around 10 years old, and in that region, there were no convenience foods to be found. Not even Heinz ketchup (at least back in the late 80's). I grew up eating most everything from scratch.
                                              The most "convenience" food type things I can remember her making were sandwiches using store bought bread. LOL :)

                                              1. My mom was a great cook and a terrific baker. Every once is a while we'd get canned ravioli for dinner or those Chinese dinners in a can with noodles taped on top. I never minded much. Growing up in SE Massachusetts, another go-to was meat pies from a bakery or fish and chips...Yum!

                                                1. Canned ravioli, Spaghetti with sauce from a jar. Kraft Mac and Cheese. And Hamburger Helper, once that was introduced. My father worked for General Mills, so we got Hamburger Helper and other GM products at a discount. She didn't add anything or try to spruce it up in someway: I think she was afraid of going against the package directions. She did make salads - always iceberg lettuce and rock-hard tomatoes. There were a few things she did make from scratch, although beef stew is the only one that comes to mind. When I cook for her these days she sometimes complains my meals are too fancy, i.e., they don't come out of a box.

                                                  1. Thanks for making me appreciate my parents. My mother was/is (she is 88 and in a retirement community so not cooking a lot lately, although she does have small kitchen and cooks occasionally for church events) a great Southern cook. She and my dad had a huge garden (this was back in the 70's that I remember, and I am the youngest child by far), and much of our produce was grown at home, and in the winter was what was canned from the summer crop. Tomatoes, okra, green beans, pink-eyed purple-hulled peas, and when my family lived in the North, asparagus and English peas (these don't grow well in the South). My dad grew all kinds of chile peppers... habaneros, Trinidad peppers, cayenne, and many more. He made hot sauce and dried pepper blends. We even raised our own chickens for a while (both for eggs and meat), and we had a pond out back stocked with catfish, bass and perch. Heck, my mother, at one point, got some raw milk from a local dairy farmer and took me through the process of clabbering the milk, separating cream, churning butter, using the buttermilk... Did I mention this was the seventies? The onset of the microwave era? But my mother was born on a farm in rural Mississippi in 1924, so her idea of food was a bit different. God bless her.

                                                    The only time I ever had anything out of a box was when my parents went out and we had a sitter for the night. I rarely even ate cereal for breakfast. Cooking breakfast was my father's job (a deal he struck with my mother, according to which she got up in the night to take care of us kids, and he let her sleep in in the morning and made breakfast for us). Breakfast would be eggs, bacon, grits, and a vegetable from the garden. In the summer usually zucchini done on the griddle, in the fall, fried green tomatoes.

                                                    I greatly appreciate all this now, but I have to admit that when I was a kid, I did look forward to the nights with the baby sitter and the TV dinner or box meal that went with them. It's not so much that I liked the processed food, but that is when I got to eat what most of my friends were eating, so it made me feel more normal. Sad but true.

                                                    1. Lipton Noodle Soup out of the box with a 15 cent loaf of fresh Binders French Bread.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: mudcat

                                                        That reminds me - Campbell's soups. No soup was ever made from scratch in our house. We didn't need to as Campbell made so many kinds, and all so delicious. I remember oxtail and black bean so well I can still taste them, and I'd buy them today if Campbell's still made them. Instead they have a line of Disney soups as well as Scoobie-Doo and Phineas and Ferb. :-(

                                                      2. Ahh the Velveeta days of youth. My mother and my father did and do like to cook, but when I was a child she would do the tuna casserole which I did like (with the velveeta and canned cream of mushroom). Sometimes the taco shells. Fish sticks were a favorite for the kids when my folks would go out. But she would never ever use boxed "mixes" like rice-a-roni.
                                                        To this day, I still get a bit of a craving for that old tuna casserole. People will certainly make comfort-food associations with things they might have had as a child. Were you more likely to do the boxed meal thing when your son was much younger? If so, when your son asks for that "odd" request, don't try to juice it up --he's probably just feeling nostalgic for some reason, and wants it just as he remembered it.