Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Don’t blame Bittman, family meals are important

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I heard a piece on the CBC recently that rubbed me the wrong way. Then my friend sent me a link to this interview with the author of the study being discussed on the CBC. The study looked at the alleged negative effect that proponents of home-cooked meals (such as Mark Bittman, Jamie Oliver, and other celebrity chefs) have on over-worked mums. This bothered me for a number of reasons.

First of all, it’s not just out-of-touch celebrity chefs advocating for eating home-cooked meals together as a family most evenings. Most dietitians are on-board and probably quite a few other health professions. There are so many good reasons to eat together as a family: home-cooked meals tend to be healthier than restaurant, fast food, take-away, and packaged meals; there is also the important social aspect involved with sitting down and sharing a meal with others; also, if you’re sitting eating at a table you’re less likely to overeat and mindlessly eat than you are if you’re eating in front of the tv or in the car.

Apparently these celebrity chefs are making working mums feel badly because they don’t have the time (and sometimes the money) to prepare elaborate home-cooked meals for their families every night. I get it, we’re all busy but home-cooked meals need not take exorbitant quantities of time or money to prepare. We also need to get our priorities straight. Cooking meals should not be taking time away from quality family time. Cooking meals should be quality family time. Kids can help in the kitchen from quite a young age and can become increasingly involved as they get older. Bonus: children are more likely to eat and enjoy food that they had a hand in preparing. Also, what’s with the burden being placed on mums? I know that the bulk of housework and cooking often falls on women (sorry, not sorry anti-feminists). Men, get in the kitchen! Everyone in the family can be involved in cooking.

Finally, just because a home-cooked family meal seven nights a week might be an unattainable goal, doesn’t mean that we should just throw in the kitchen towel and order a pizza. It’s like the watered down physical activity guidelines that were created because most people won’t meet the minimums that we should truly be meeting. Or dumbing down the grade school curriculum because children might not be able to achieve the desired outcomes. This lowering of the bar is doing us a disservice as a society. Maybe nightly home-cooked meals are not realistic immediate goals. Set a smaller goal to start but keep that end goal in sight. A home-cooked meal doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s okay to have grilled cheese and tomato soup. Planning ahead and prepping ingredients in advance can make nightly family meals achievable. There is no problem with home-cooked meals. There is a problem with our society that doesn’t value home-cooked meals.

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

6 thoughts on “Don’t blame Bittman, family meals are important

  1. Both my wife and I work full time, I work an additional 3 evenings a week, and still cook 5 meals a week that we all sit at the dinner table to eat together.

    It’s where we decompress, where we share and where we bond. If it is a priority, you will find a way. Turn off the t.v.

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    • It’s all about planning an prioritizing. As a society, our priorities are way out of whack!

      Thanks for your comment Rob!

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      • I fully agree, we say our children are a priority but in many families I work with (I’m a child and youth worker) it’s obvious that the child often comes at best second to the parents needs. Then they can’t figure out why jimmy’s always in trouble, or Jane’s always looking for attention in the wrong places..

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  2. I am currently a dietetic intern and whole-heartedly believe in the importance of family meals. More than half of the life lessons I learned from my parents were taught around the dinner table. The interview referenced in this post seems to point out the barriers to preparing regular, home-cooked meals. I feel as though RDs working in the community setting can have a huge impact in helping individuals break past these barriers. The expertise community nutritionists have can lead people to better access to healthy foods via government or community programs, teach people with time-restraints the beauty of a crock-pot, freezer-friendly meals, etc. I feel as though it is the RD’s job to be problem solvers, get out in their communities and share their knowledge to help make regular, home-cooked meals an attainable reality.

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  3. This is ridiculous. I work full time and my husband works part time and also goes to law school. (Because you have to stay relevant) We have two kids in two different schools who need meals, after care, long commutes (because who can always afford to live near work) sports and homework. I wake at 5:30 make lunches, breakfasts, get everyone out of bed and ready and out the door by 7:20. Drop kids at their respective schools and go straight to work. Reverse the process and finally get home by 6:30 on the days when there aren’t sports. Get the kids set up to finish homework. Start dinner. Pop in to help with homework here and there. Chop vegetables, boil potatoes, cook salmon, or chicken or whatever, serve on paper plates because who the hell has the time for full dishes. Clear up and put food away. Get back to the multiple hours of homework. Get youngest into shower and bed by 8:30 finish homework with oldest and get him into shower and bed by 10:00. Do dishes. Tidy up, put things away, deal with dog, fall into bed by 11. Start it all over again 6 1/2 hours later. No TV. Please. We don’t even pay for cable anymore because what is the point.

    Weekends are laundry, big cleaning, bill paying and shopping to do it all over again. Try to do some prep cooking and chopping on Sunday when possible to lighten the load for the week. Don’t chop the things that might turn bad in the fridge too fast and waste the money. Make huge container of salad to try to last at least through the beginning of the week. But not too much or it turns rusty and the kids won’t eat it. Make a plan for the fruit so the more perishable stuff is eaten first and the things that last like citrus are eaten later in the week.

    It is unsustainable work and at least we can afford the food. I can’t imagine how people who can’t afford it manage. Beauty of crockpots and freezer friendly meals. Seriously. Oh. And still have a fat kid and have people assume we eat crap because the articles say we must because if we are eating this way he wouldn’t be.

    Also, the work falls on mothers because the kids are trying to crank out their hours of homework. The chores I used to do as a kid my kids don’t actually have time for in the evenings. Sure they clear and set the table and clear up afterwards, but then they get back to homework, helped by me, so they can handle the heavier workloads at school than I had and they need adult help because the teaching isn’t always completed at school.

    And while the details and specifics change from family to family, the overall picture is the same. The demands on our time and efforts from work and school are increasing. But we cannot let this portion of our lives slide because it is also our obligation. Just ask all the celebrity chefs. And so we take it ALL on in order to feel adequate to the expectations heaped upon us. Not successful, but at least not failures.

    There is no easy solution and a condescending “teach people the beauty of a crockpot and freezer friendly meals” is insulting and offensive. Throwing platitudes at the problem only helps you to feel superior. (Besides, crockpot food mostly just tastes heavy and overcooked and “brown”. Or remains un-thickened and watery because it never really boils. Ew.)

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    • I wasn’t saying that it’s easy to make family meals. Home cooked meals for one or five take time, planning, and effort. My point was that just because they’re not easy doesn’t mean that we should give up on them. Clearly, if you’re putting in all this effort you feel the same way. Unfortunately, until our society re-evaluates priorities it’s going to continue to be a battle.

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