If you’ve kept up with my posts on here, you’re aware that I hate cooking, or at least that I hate the difficulty and stress that comes from having to cook for an entire family. It’s more of a keeping-up-with-the-joneses thing — I always feel like my friends can make awesome gourmet meals when I’m making tacos from a box or shake and bake chicken or something. And I wonder how other working moms have the time to spend 2-3 hours on food prep, cooking, dinner and clean up when I barely have time to sleep.
Anyway, I came across this article yesterday, and I’m wondering how our readership feels about it. I can honestly say that I can see the author’s point, but at the same time, this feels such an over-simplified and unfair portrayal of the problem: parents don’t cook wholesome, whole-food meals for their children because they love the convenience of using processed, packaged, fast foods instead, and because society condones such behavior and big companies have too much control over what we eat due to lax regulation of nutrition labeling. Yet he doesn’t seem to wholly place blame on the processed food industry and the convenience culture it has created; he notes that “[f]ixing this problem will require more than just trying to make parents feel guilty” (emphasis added). So, let’s start by making parents feel guilty about putting convenience over health … and then let’s make it easier for parents to be healthy, so they don’t need to feel guilty.
And that would be just fine if he offered viable solutions in this article, but he doesn’t seem to. He offers three talking points that sound nice enough, but no concrete steps toward changing the convenience culture, other than a fleeting reference to “changing labeling laws.” In the same paragraph, he laments that many parents view mac and cheese as “a smart choice.” I assume he’s talking about the orange-hued stuff in a box, but isn’t it true that homemade mac and cheese also qualifies as a homecooked meal made from scratch? Just because something is cooked from scratch doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better for you.
The other thing that gets me is calling it “sad” that children don’t see homecooked meals any more. But if you stop and think about it, why is this “sad”? Eating healthful, nutritious meals is one thing, but he seems to imply that it’s just plain tragic that children don’t see food being prepared in their own kitchens. What if the family members are nonetheless spending quality time with each other, with the children learning great values, life skills, and otherwise benefitting from family life? I am so tired of modern lifestyle critics lamenting the long gone days of old-fashioned home and family life, as if a child is going to become morally corrupt simply by virtue of the fact that he never got to see mama roast a chicken for Sunday dinner. Again, life is simply more complicated than that, and I respectfully submit that the American family is not doomed simply because traditional dinner time doesn’t happen as often as it used to.
The author also cites statistics for the average amount of time we spend watching TV or on the internet as evidence that we must have time to cook, so lack of time is not an excuse. I don’t know who this average American is, because I certainly don’t watch 34 hours of TV per week. I do spend that much time, if not more, working, however. As for time spent online, well, this is a blog, so it probably won’t come as any surprise that I spend quite a bit of time online. But assuming he’s referring to fooling around online, and not time spent online for work purposes, I think if this is time spent after the kids are in bed, or first thing in the morning, or otherwise during non-meal times, I don’t see how this has any relevance to whether we have time to cook. I think the time suck comes from long workdays, needing to bring work home from the office, long commutes, etc. — not simply looking at pictures of cats when there’s a lasagna just begging to be made and the kids are eating corndogs for dinner for the third time that week.
As for denormalizing our reliance on convenience foods, I wholeheartedly agree. I just wish the author would offer practical tips for doing this when dad has to put in overtime just to make sure rent will get paid that month, or when a single mom has to pick her kids up from a relative’s house 45 minutes away because she can’t afford an expensive daycare. I’m all for any initiative that promotes healthy kids and strong families. I just don’t think heaping mountains of guilt on a working mom for feeding her kids orange mac and cheese is a good start.
Do you think this author has the right idea, or is this judgment disguised as a call to arms in the name of health?