The statement may not be far from the truth that people spend less time in the kitchen now than before, as experts have found that women spend nearly 2 hours a day in the kitchen decades ago, but now they spend a little less than an hour preparing meals. Although, it was observed that men are cooking more than they used to, but still only cook 20 minutes a day.
In a 2014 TED Talk, which had more than 8 million views, British chef and food celebrity Jamie Oliver paced the stage, lecturing the audience about the amount of processed foods people consume. His message: “People need to start passing on cooking skills again”.
Oliver and other food reformers believe that the time is there to cook, if only people would get their priorities straight. Families could be more efficient by cooking in batches at the weekend or investing in time-saving gadgets like the Instant Pot.
In other to prove their point, the scientists who studied food, family and health embarked on a five-year study to find out what it takes to put a meal on the table. They interviewed a diverse group of 150 mothers of young children and spent over 250 hours observing families as they shopped for groceries, cooked meals and ate them.
The results revealed that the mothers in the study cared deeply about food and their children’s health, and they spent a good deal of time cooking. But even so, most felt they were coming up short of time, as they narrated their experiences why insisting that parents “make time to cook” while they are to overlook unpredictable work schedules, time conflicts and the expense of time-saving options matter.
Another study conducted in 2015 found that 17 percent of people have jobs with irregular schedules, a disproportionate number of them are low-income workers. It also explained how having little control over time makes it difficult for families to plan their meals in advance or even to know who will be there for dinner.
The study further disclosed how nonstandard work schedules are also associated with an increased risk of health problems. When food experts or celebrity chefs talked about making time for dinner, they rarely consider households whose daily rhythm is largely out of their control.
“This was the case for Ashley and Marquan Taylor (all names are pseudonyms), a working-class family in our study. The couple worked for the same fast food chain, but at different branches, 45 minutes apart. They picked up as many shifts as they could with the hopes of repairing their car and catching up on the bills.
“Ashley did her best to put meals on the table. She kept a meticulous binder of coupons to save the family money at the grocery store. However her unpredictable work schedule made it difficult to find time to cook. “I told the manager to put me on a schedule,” Ashley explained, sounding exasperated. “They ask me every day if I can stay late.” Much of Ashley’s day is governed by the decisions other people make”, the findings noted.
The idea of slowing down and making time for food sounds ideal. But in reality, today’s families have a lot on their metaphorical plate.
Surveys have shown over time how working parents report feeling rushed. Mothers, in particular, feel overwhelmed. Women still do the majority of cooking and housework, even though 76 percent of mothers with children between the ages of 6 and 17 work outside the home.
Women also experience cultural pressure to be highly involved in their children’s lives. Greely Janson, a middle-class mother in the study, felt this pressure acutely. “When I have the time, I enjoy cooking. But when it’s so compressed after a stressful day, cooking is horrible,” she said. Greely felt torn at the end of the day. She wanted to cook and help her daughter finish her Valentine’s Day cards for school.
Greely tried cooking in batches on the weekend to save time during the week. It worked for a little while. But then life got even more hectic. As she and her husband’s work hours increased, and they continued shuttling their daughter to after-school activities, Greely’s time-saving system broke down.
Despite her best efforts, Greely couldn’t manage competing demands like cooking healthy meals and doing school projects with her daughter as well as she wanted. And she is not alone. Although parents today spend more quality time with their kids than parents in 1965, many still feel like it’s not enough time.
The market has solutions for families looking to cook from scratch more efficiently. Meal delivery kits take the work out of planning a meal. And supermarkets will deliver groceries to your doorstep, for a price. Some food advocates argue that kitchen technologies make cooking from scratch easier than ever.
Time to stop blaming parents
Society cannot keep asking parents and especially mothers to do more with the little time they have. Families, like the ones in our study, are already prioritizing food and their children’s health. But many simply don’t have as much time, or control over their time, as food reformers imagine.
Demanding workplaces and the cultural expectation to parent intensively place a huge time burden on today’s parents. Investing in families and their health requires taking the time to support them.