by Margaret Cabaniss
Did you guys hear the news?
Researchers interviewed 150 mothers from all walks of life and spent 250 hours observing 12 families in-depth, and they found “that time pressures, tradeoffs to save money, and the burden of pleasing others make it difficult for mothers to enact the idealized vision of home-cooked meals advocated by foodies and public health officials.”
So, the takeaway here is…cooking every night is hard. I think pretty much any mom in the history of ever could have told them the same thing, but duly noted.
Some people find the results more disturbing, though: In her piece “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner,” Amanda Marcotte takes in this information and argues that we should all just acknowledge that cooking is basically the worst:
The main reason that people see cooking mostly as a burden is because it is a burden. It’s expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway. If we want women—or gosh, men, too—to see cooking as fun, then these obstacles [e.g., not enough time, not enough money, not enough space, picky eaters] need to be fixed first. And whatever burden is left needs to be shared.
I’m all for shared burdens, but honestly, you could make the same argument about parenting — it would be so much more enjoyable if we had more time/money/space! — but somehow we haven’t stopped raising kids, or found it less worthwhile. Heck, that’s just life, and we still manage to muddle through.
Still, Marcotte isn’t wrong that the Bittmans and Pollans of the world can sometimes wax a little overly romantic about the glories of a home-cooked meal (only from pastured meats, organic veggies, and sprouted grains, thank you). The fact is, no matter how worthwhile it may be — and I believe it’s extremely worthwhile — cooking for your family (or heck, even just yourself) every day is hard, and we don’t make it any easier on ourselves by expecting perfection right out of the gate and thinking we should be loving every minute of it.
Over at Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle charts a more level-headed course between the two extremes:
We shouldn’t over-idealize home cooking as some glittering apex of human experience that no decent person can do without. But let’s not remedy the cultural overshoot by demonizing the preparation of a decent, healthy meal as a grueling chore that stonkers all but the most privileged and dedicated cooks. Cooking at home is often fun, and it’s almost always cheaper and healthier than the alternative — and tastier, if the alternative is picking up a tray at the high school cafeteria. It can, of course, be stressful — but it can be a lot less stressful if you will repeat after me: “I’m not running a restaurant. I’m running a home.”
McArdle lists some concrete ways that we can make daily cooking chores less of a burden: prep ahead. Share the work. Freeze ingredients. Use shortcuts (and yes, jarred sauces and frozen vegetables can be perfectly acceptable). Make a meal plan (which has saved my sanity more times than I can count). And one of my favorites:
Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the adequate. The primary object is to keep everyone’s stomach filled without giving them Type II diabetes or busting the budget. Do that first, then stretch to more ambitious goals such as mastering coq au vin.
It’s not exactly rocket science, but for the vast majority of Americans who still have to get dinner on the table tonight — regardless of whether it’s fair or fun — it’s a good start.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the study, Marcotte’s response, or McArdle’s suggestions. How do you make daily cooking chores less of a burden? What are some of your favorite tips for eating healthy, home-cooked meals while keeping your sanity?
Image: Illustration of Mother and Children Carrying Thanksgiving Dinner, by Douglass Crockwell