Casseroles and Comfort Food: Home Cooking at Its Best

September 26, 2023

Although grocery price increases were just 0.2% in August and up only 3% overall for the year, shoppers are still feeling the pinch and looking for ways to save money on their food bills.

According to CNN, pork, shelf-stable seafood, and frozen juices and drinks have all increased in price this year, leaving shoppers to use calculators so they don’t exceed their grocery budgets.

Some recipes are more inflation-resistant than others, and with fall in the air, home cooks are turning to casseroles and comfort foods to stretch their dollars and feed their families.

The Casserole: An American Classic

Casseroles have an honored place in American culinary history. Nearly every cook knows how to make at least one, and they’re homegrown examples of “making do.” While casseroles became the darlings of women’s magazines and convenience food ads in the 1950s, they’d been around longer.

Lean economic times like the Great Depression tend to inspire cooks to create their own family recipes. With World War II and rationing following the Depression, those on the homefront cooked with what they had. Meat was rationed, so home cooks used pasta, rice, or beans to create a dish that needed only a little meat but filled up the family’s plates.

Convenience foods and glass baking dishes made casseroles even more popular. Recipes appeared in every magazine, newspaper column, and church newsletter. Since women were the cooks of the house, these recipes were targeted to their needs. They also played on the fears of those who felt their cooking skills weren’t up to scratch by showing readers that anyone could put together a delicious casserole.

As Americans became more health-conscious, the venerable casserole faded in popularity. People wanted fresh, healthy food, and that didn’t usually include convenience foods high in fat and sodium.

Times change, however, and the pandemic sparked a casserole revival. People were stuck at home and, out of either boredom or necessity, started pulling out old cookbooks and searching recipes online for casseroles.

There is no official count of the number of casserole recipes on the Internet, but a simple search of the term turns up 254 million search results on Google. Casseroles are entrenched in the American consciousness.

However, for their pandemic casseroles, cooks created healthier versions of these easy-bake dishes using homemade sauces and fresh ingredients. Even convenience foods are now available in low-fat and low-sodium versions. The casserole comeback is a healthier, modern version.

The Science and Pleasure of Comfort Food

Merriam-Webster defines comfort food as “food prepared in a traditional style having a usually nostalgic or sentimental appeal.” That’s a broad definition, but there’s science behind it.

According to Goldbelly, an online food marketplace, the carbohydrates, sugar, and fat frequently found in comfort food trigger the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. This releases dopamine, the mood-boosting hormone. So there’s a biological reason why comfort food makes us feel better.

Comfort food can include general dishes like burgers and fries, macaroni and cheese, or ice cream, as well as regional favorites like Southern soul food or a New York City deli pastrami sandwich. Italian dishes like chicken parmigiana are also popular. It covers the carbs and cheese elements of comfort food.

Breakfast for dinner is another popular way to enjoy favorite comfort foods. Cooks who may not have time to make a large breakfast in the mornings can do the prep for supper when time isn’t at such a premium. Bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, waffles, and omelets are all popular, comforting breakfast items. Breakfast casseroles are popular as well.

Cara Campbell, creator of the food blog The Gourmet Bon Vivant, offers her take on comfort foods: “Having to pick a favorite comfort food is one of the most difficult questions of all time. For me though, it’s definitely something that’s going to bring back some nostalgic memories, like a Sunday roast dinner with my family, or chicken and dumplings at my grandma’s farm. There’s nothing I love more than being cozied up in my kitchen on a chilly day, stirring away at a soup or a stew that reminds me of home. It’s just the best. Even better if I can do some updating and make the recipes even better!”

Comfort food’s nostalgic, sentimental appeal continues to prompt cooks to make their favorite dishes. Karen Kelly from Seasonal Cravings says, “My favorite comfort food is macaroni and cheese — and not just any recipe. There is one recipe from my childhood that is made in the slow cooker with lots of cheese and evaporated milk. It’s rich and creamy and we always had it at family events. For me, comfort food is not just about the food, but about the events that come to mind when I eat them. They remind me of happy, carefree childhood days.”

Caroline Bologna, reporting for The Huffington Post, rounded up the top trending recipes on Google for 2022. Eight out of the 10 dishes on the list could be classified as “comfort food.” They included homemade Italian tomato sauce, Cincinnati chili, mango pie, two homemade sandwiches, “Marry Me” chicken, pancakes, and ” The Bea r Spaghetti.”

While casseroles and comfort food change with popular tastes and trends, they remain a mainstay of American cooking.

This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Amy Pollick | Wealth of Geeks undefined


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