What's Cooking?

Our third annual survey reveals a generation gap when it comes to making dinner and eating in.

June 01, 2005|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Food Editor

The story of how Maryland cooks is a tale of two kitchens, our latest reader survey finds.

Older cooks tend to make dinner from scratch, eat in the kitchen or dining room, favor American cuisine and say the late Julia Child is their favorite chef.

Cooks younger than age 35 use prepared foods more often, prefer Italian cuisine, are fans of TV chef Rachael Ray and often eat dinner in front of the television.

More than 1,500 readers responded to the third annual Taste survey online and in the newspaper. Besides the noticeable differences between the generations, the survey also found:

88 percent of respondents cook at least three times a week.

Women tend to see cooking as an act of love; men see it as art or science.

Readers say the main reason they cook is because they enjoy it.

More than half of the readers say their dinner entree is likely to be chicken.

Readers say the most essential item in the kitchen is the microwave oven, followed by the coffee maker.

Many readers surveyed said their friends or families motivate them to cook. "I like to see people eat," says Hasseline Crowder, 55, a Maryland Transit Administration police officer, who began cooking for her brothers and sisters when she was growing up in North Carolina.

Her specialties include barbecue and a "tuna" casserole that uses mackerel and fried chicken served with spaghetti (a dish she doesn't make often, she says, because "I don't want people to get used to it").

Gerald Dance of Lexington Park, a 70-year-old father of three, said he enjoys poring through cookbooks to find new recipes his kids, ages 16, 9 and 7, will enjoy. He cooks Chinese, Indian, Medi-terranean, Spanish and Leba-nese dishes. Recently, he began experimenting with panini made with homemade bread.

"When I was 12, I had a good friend teach me how to cook an omelet and it took off from there," Dance said.

Crowder, who lives in the Pimlico area, was among the 40 percent of respondents who see cooking as a way to express love for friends and family. Dance was among the 27 percent who view cooking as an art form.

But at the other end of the spectrum was a surprising number -- 28 percent -- who summed up their view of cooking as: "Gotta eat, gotta cook."

"It doesn't give me joy," says Linda Hylan, 58, of Westminster. "I see it as a big waste of time."

She says she does like finding creative ways to use leftovers, often salvaging small portions of meat and vegetables and freezing them to use later in soups. She cooks mainly because her family expects it, it saves money and it's more healthful, she says.

The view that cooking at home is more healthful than eating out was shared by a large number of readers: One in four respondents said it is their main reason for cooking.

"I lost 40 pounds over the last year and a half and the only cooking I trust is my own," said Wendy McCord, 29, a Howard County firefighter.

Jennifer Meyer, 38, of Catonsville, says her desire to cook healthful foods springs from her love of her family. "It would be easy to go out to a restaurant to eat," says Meyer, who has two children, ages 2 and 8. "But it's high in salt content and high in fat. ... How I show my love is giving ... the family an overall balanced diet to keep them healthy."

When it comes to deciding what to cook, more than 43 percent of the respondents said their favorite cuisine is American. Again, there were generational differences, with cooks under 35 showing a wider range of food preferences -- 30 percent favoring Italian, 24 percent American, 15 percent Mexican. But among cooks 65 and older, 58 percent prefer American, 20 percent Italian and 2 percent Mexican.

More than half of the respondents said chicken is likely to be their dinner entree on any given night of the week. But 20 percent of the respondents under age 35 said their usual entree is vegetarian.

Wendy Bennett, 29, a medical resident at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, says she gave up meat when she was 14 out of concern for animal rights, but says now she also believes the vegetarian diet is more healthful. Salads, pastas, beans and tofu are staples she and her husband use in their meals. "We have certain standards that we prepare quickly," she says, adding that she usually has dinner on the table in less than a half-hour.

The 30-minute meal is something of a gold standard that food manufacturers, chefs and cookbook authors have tried to help Americans achieve. Nevertheless, 58 percent of the cooks surveyed said they typically spend between a half-hour and an hour making dinner.

The amount of time spent cooking varies by age. A third of readers under age 35 spend less than a half-hour over the stove compared with about a quarter of those over age 50. While only 6 percent of young cooks spend more than an hour making dinner, 16 percent of those over age 65 do.

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