a peek inside the fishbowl

22 Sep, 2010

Scratch cooking

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Publishing/writing/career stuff|Recipes and Food|Yaktivism

The other day a lady came up to me and said HEY, I READ YOUR BLOG. And then she said I DON’T BUY MEATBALLS ANYMORE, and jokingly hung her head in shame.

We laughed, and I told her not to sweat it. I buy meatballs sometimes too. I do it because it’s cheap and it’s convenient, but the truth is, it’s best not to get too friendly with the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. Why? Because so much of it is crap.

I don’t want to make anyone feel bad (I was recently accused of being preachy, which I admit, may be true) but I would like to put this out there for wider consideration: Why don’t we want to spend good money on good food?

Studies show that Americans are spending less than ever on food.

“Cheap food is often the product of factory farming and industrial agriculture. With jumbo size products being sold for cheaper, Americans may be gaining more for their dollar, but they’re also gaining more weight, losing their health, spending more on their healthcare and supporting environmentally unsustainable practices.”

(From the Huffington Post – click through on the link and watch the video too.)

Why are we spending LESS on food instead of MORE?

This is what I found myself wondering as I tapped out my latest piece for SavvyMom. It’s about a food cooking/delivery service here in Ottawa called Scratch Kitchen. **

Scratch Kitchen makes great meals – lunches, dinners, mains and sides – that are cooked and frozen. So all you have to do is pull the food out of the freezer before you go to bed and it’s defrosted and ready to heat n’eat when you get home from work the next day.

Scratch Kitchen offers free delivery with a minimum order, but I bought some meals at the Metro in the Glebe, one of a handful of places you can pick it up yourself. 

In the name of research I bought a serving of the portioned Singapore chicken potato and coconut curry for my lunch. It was a great antidote to a chilly fall day that also made my tummy very happy. I also bought a larger serving of Butter Chicken with a side of Chili Lime Rice for dinner that night. Delish. 

These are not assembly-line products. This is not factory food. Sean, the owner and chef and delivery guy, is truly passionate about the meals he makes. I was really impressed by his dedication to the cause.

Sean – who has worked as a chef in many different places – started Scratch Kitchen because he was seeking some balance in his life. He wasn’t getting to see his sons, and he and his wife found themselves “passing like two ships in the night.” Scratch Kitchen was a good solution. He could (sort of) work regular hours and continue to feed people without the pressures that come with being a chef in steaming hot kitchen. (Although as I write that I realize he didn’t actually leave the kitchen at all. And added on a few different pressures in the process. But you catch my meaning right? This is a different ball of cheese.)

Anyway, I digress.

The single serving of my Singapore curry cost $6.00. It was a good portion for my lunch and it tasted great. I know, however, that many people will scoff at the price. Some of your are thinking: “…but my Michaelina’s costs $2.89! Why would I spent six bucks on lunch?”  Right?

The only similarity between my lunch from Scratch and the Michelina’s frozen entrees is the fact that they can both go into my mouth and get pooped out the other end. That’s about it.

Eating is not just about filling our bellies. Eating is about good health – mental and physical – and what’s more, it should be a pleasure, not a chore. And yet it is becoming so, mostly because there are all kinds of food products on the market and it’s become confusing and you practically need a degree in science to figure out what you’re eating.

Most frozen meals contain ingredients you don’t recognize, along with additives and preservatives your body doesn’t need, and in fact, may be doing it harm in the long term. WHO KNOWS.

If you read something which extols “LOW FAT” virtues for example, you should immediately be suspicious. This is marketing lingo. It’s a bunch of executives and a few creative-types sitting around a table planning on selling more yogurt/sour cream/cheese. It’s not your doctor talking. These people are trying to make money. Food is business, and marking something as LOW FAT means market research indictes people would buy more product if it was low fat. So the food manufacturer cuts out fat and replaces it with something else. Sometimes it’s sugar, or cornstarch, or gelatin, or some other ingredients you can’t spell or pronounce.

Take, for example, Michelina’s Spaghetti with Meat Sauce. One serving (one package) contains 300 calories and 550mg of sodium. This is almost 31% the sodium you should be eating in one day. Here are the ingredients (remember, if there is a lot of something it appears early on the list):

Caps are not mine. Sorry this is hard to read.



That’s a long list. I’m not sure about you, but there are a few things in there I don’t recognize. Alarm bells go off for me when I see anything that’s hydrogenated, artificially flavoured, and corn syrupy. And I am pretty sure that many of us can make a decent meat sauce that doesn’t include half of the things listed above. (Hey, here’s a good one you can use!)

I realize that people are cash-strapped, and not everyone can afford to spend $6.00 on a nice lunch everyday. So I think that making it at home instead has to become a bigger priority for all of us. If a place like Scratch Kitchen doesn’t appeal to you, how about making a big batch of spaghetti/chili/stew/mac & cheese and freezing it in lunch-sized containers for yourself to eat during the week? It takes time, but you are worth it.

** Want to try a meal from Scratch Kitchen? Use coupon code ‘SavvyMom0910’ at checkout for a one-time 10% off your order. Coupon is not applicable for purchase of gift cards and is valid until October 31, 2010.

17 Responses to "Scratch cooking"

1 | Stephanie

September 22nd, 2010 at 9:09 am


I actually batch-cook about once every few months. I choose a menu of four or five dishes that freeze really well (examples: ground turkey soup, chipotle chili, kidney bean curry, light butter chicken, lentil stew); I make a shopping list and buy what I need; and then I spend the entire day cooking. I fill my freezer to bursting and we have lunches for months. Lots of times we just have leftovers for lunch, but on those nights when I don’t make enough, I always have an easily accessible meal to pop in our lunch bags.

It’s an exhausting day, but it makes me happy to open the freezer and see homemade, healthy lunches.

2 | bushidoka

September 22nd, 2010 at 9:43 am


A few comments. In general I think as well that people should pay more for food, but the fact that they are paying less could be a good thing. We do most of our cooking from scratch and find that it is a big money saver versus buying packaged food. So maybe spending less means people are doing more for themselves, and that would be a good thing.

Also just wondering – this seems like a commercial for the “Scratch Cooking” place. Are they a payed sponsor or something? Sounds like a great place, but still seems like a big commercial for them.

Oh, and “hee, hee, you said ‘poop'” :-)

3 | karen

September 22nd, 2010 at 10:22 am


I am one of those countless people who simply cannot afford a $6 lunch. I don’t really buy frozen meals because no one in the house likes them and the odd time I do give in and buy one most of it ends up in the garbage. I have a feeling that if I could afford to buy from a place like Scratch Kitchen I might give up cooking all together. I honestly do not enjoy cooking. I like baking but making meals has never been something I enjoy.

Oh, one other thing. I’m a little bit embarrased to admit this but I’ve never had butter chicken. Am I missing out?

4 | andrea

September 22nd, 2010 at 10:35 am


Karen: you are missing out. Butter chicken is probably my favourite Indian dish!

Batch cooking is the way to go, and for, ahem, those of us who aren’t very organized, places like Scratch Kitchen offer a great way to stock up on some convenience foods that are actually healthy.

Batch cooking can be done as cheaply as you want to make it. It’d work great for dinners as well as lunches. The issue here is priorities. If we really wanted to do it we would find the time and make it a priority, don’t you think?

Bushidoka: I think you make a good point, but I’m willing to bet that you’re in the vast minority. I don’t think that “spending less” equates with “cooking at home” in this scenario.

Also, this post was was not a paid advertisement, what’s more, I bought my own meals. Scratch Kitchen is just a service that I thought was really cool and I thought I’d share it with readers here and at SavvyMom.

5 | Jennifer

September 22nd, 2010 at 10:41 am


Hey fiend, you are writing about so many important things these days I just can’t keep up!!!! I remember saying to you once that if I wanted to know what’s going on or read about ‘what’s important’ I go to Quietfish (as opposed to newspapers such as The Citizen or Globe). You told me I was missing out on a lot of important news! I don’t think so. Anyways, what I am trying to say is keep up the good work. Your blog is relevant. I have much to comment on this post and the sugar fast and other stuff going on in the ‘hood, just haven’t had time. Keep writing.

6 | Theresa

September 22nd, 2010 at 11:43 am


I batch cook a lot aw well. precious little in my kitchen is in a box or can. Bit I love to cook, and have the time to do it, Batch cooking saves my butt on busy evenings, and prevents the walk down the frozen food aisle.

You are what you eat, literally. It is far better healthwise to pay more for whole foods and cook yourself. And if those foods are local, all the better.

Pay now at the checkout, or pay later in healthcare costs.

7 | Liisa

September 22nd, 2010 at 11:55 am


We stopped with frozen prepared foods about 2 years ago. I feel so much better feeding our family foods made without so many additives and preservatives, which at least I can control at home.

We still eat out a lot so I’m sure we’re still getting our share of the not-so-good-stuff. AND, I do still have a box of Blue Menu chicken nuggets in the freezer, but I’m sure they should actually be in the trash since I’ve had them for so long.

A week or so ago I tried out Supperworks. While the food is not organic, you at least know exactly what is going into it; I really enjoyed the experience, and so far, we are two for two with the meals.

Looking forward to checking out Scratch Kitchen too…

Oh, and I posted a super easy, cheap and nutritious meal idea today http://wp.me/pOUJj-e7

8 | bushidoka

September 22nd, 2010 at 12:03 pm


@karen – butter chicken – you really DO have to try it! Let me see if my wife has her recipe online since it is really easy to make. You may want to jump onto the slow cooker bandwagon if you want to get in on some simple, healthy cooking that will save you money and is easy to do.

@andrea – thanks for the clarification. In that case I’d say the fact that it sounds like a commercial speaks very highly of the place!

9 | Betsy Mae

September 22nd, 2010 at 3:23 pm


Great business idea…obviously not close to me. I’ve tried Supperworks as one of the commenters mentioned and I liked my experiences (3 of them) but didn’t feel that it was a time saver, more of a fun social night out with some ladies which left me with a bunch of prepped meals! I also found it inspiring, all the recipes were new to my family so a nice change.

I do some batch cooking if I make lasagne, meatballs, chicken parmesan, or chili type thing but what I find works best for me is to prep meals so in bulk so that all I have to do is thaw some marinaded chicken and cook it, make a salad and voila dinner. You are right, it takes some extra planning but I don’t find it takes that much extra time. I figure if my food processer is already out to finely chop veggies I might as well chop a whole lot of onions at once for several dishes right?

10 | Stefania (Ingredients for Life)

September 22nd, 2010 at 4:23 pm


You had me laughing with this line: “The only similarity between my lunch from Scratch and the Michelina’s frozen entrees is the fact that they can both go into my mouth and get pooped out the other end. That’s about it.”

I recognize that time is precious but I always advise clients to take time during the week to prepare food for the week and cook with freezing in mind. Bean and rice patties, soup and tomato sauce are essential items. Chilli and other hearty items like homebaked cookies and muffins are fun and freeze really well.

When I complain of how little time I have I think of all the time I watch TV and then I feel guilty and start cooking.

By the way, love Indian food and there is a great restaurant that prepares and sells their meals at Foodsmith’s in Perth. There are restaurants and kitchens out there that pepare and and sell quality food when time is short. You pay a little more but I agree, you’re worth it.

11 | Tiana

September 22nd, 2010 at 5:32 pm


I checked out their menu a couple of days ago and was a little disappointed at their lack of vegetarian options. Sure there are a lot of veggie side dish options… but… It just kind of feels like an afterthought.

12 | lacoop

September 22nd, 2010 at 5:35 pm


First, you aren’t “preachy”. That would require that you show up on my doorstep and start rambling. If we show up on your “blogstep” and you are blogging, well, it’s your blog, so you are allowed.

Second, you are so dead on about the importance of food. And it is so reassuring to see so many others commenting here as well about the importance of good food. It means we haven’t all been sucked in by the advertising.

13 | Jane

September 22nd, 2010 at 7:13 pm


I have a great book called “the Big Cook: prepare 200 meals 1 Day” It is divided into beef, chicken and pork (no vegie option) and gives you the choice of cooking for 1, 4, 6 or 8 meals with freezing and reheating instructions, with stir fry, barbeque or slow cooker options. The book gives nutrition facts as well as pointers on how to do a “big cook.”

It is all about being organized: Shop the flyers, plan meals for the week. not an easy chore, but worth it in the end.

14 | Rae

September 22nd, 2010 at 10:17 pm


I cook big meals, and we’ve got a borrowed pressure canner, so I jar them up to be reheated at a later time, but I’m also very guilty of “Oh, I’m out and it’s lunch, let’s go to kettlemans/wendys/sushi/?”

small steps though, I just brought the bento boxes back out, and will be focusing more on big dinners and lunch overs. I have Crohns, so changing the way I eat is very important.

15 | Ryan

September 22nd, 2010 at 11:32 pm


When I was living in Argentina, both my girlfriend and I were out of the house teaching long 10-12 hour days (that still didn’t pay well, unfortunately), so meal planning and batch cooking helped with both time and cost. There was such a sense of relief on long days when we could come home and warm something up, like Betsy Mae mentioned. And while eating out there was way cheaper than doing it here, it would still cost to eat out all the time. We’re between permanent residences right now, and I can’t wait for the time when we can make giant batches of food again. :-)

16 | coffeewithjulie

November 4th, 2010 at 9:51 am


Just made my first order from Scratch! Looking forward to trying it out. Thanks for sharing the tip.

17 | Welcome to our newest patron: Scratch Kitchen >> a peek inside the fishbowl

February 18th, 2011 at 11:21 am


[…] I want to take a minute to welcome a new patron to the Fishbowl: Scratch Kitchen. If Scratch seems seem familiar to you. It’s because I’ve written about them before in a very long and ranty post about frozen food here. […]

comment form:


Stay in touch

Me and my pet projects

Ottawa Bucket list

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • ubobet.win: Ubobet is an internationally trusted gambling dealer previously 2001 until now. By holding attributed entry for online gambling sites that give vario
  • Wendy Perkins: Can g/f flour be substituted equally?
  • milhiskom.dk: Well done and written. I've jut started blogging myself very recently and observed that mwny articles merely rehash old ideas but add very little o
  • Brien Marshall: It's like Twitter but in real life! Certain people are looking for a platform to vent their opinion and you happened to be in their audience. On my
  • Sally Dowe Marchand: Oh my. I don’t know what I would have done. Bent over in agony maybe. Or turned quickly and walked away. Or offered sympathy for the stress she is
  • Lynn: Excellent to hear! Every person who reports getting the shot makes me feel hopeful, like we are one more small step closer to good times again. Our
  • a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive I got jabbed! #TeamPfizer - a peek inside the fishbowl: […] the same day our youngest turned 20, I got my first Covid vaccine. For the record, my next one is scheduled four months from […]

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


Connect with me at these places too!

On the nightstand

All hail the mighty Twitter