Breaking News! Making Dinner Is Hard And Should Now Be Someone Else’s Responsibility

In Motherhood, Parenting by Jen28 Comments

Oh the mind-bending hopelessness of the family mealtime!!!

This last week I read a story on Slate that attempted to relate the findings and conclusions of a study by 3 North Carolina State University Sociologists: Sarah Bowen, Sinika Elliott and Joslyn Brenton. Their team conducted in-depth interviews with 150 black, white, and Latina mothers from all walks of life. They observed 250+ hours with 12 working-class and poor families in their homes as they prepared and ate meals, and tagged along on trips to the grocery store.

Their conclusions were. . . . interesting.

All that preparing and working to lovingly craft a healthy meal for one’s family?  Yeah, they’re against it.

“In the fight to combat rising obesity rates, modern-day food gurus advocate a return to the kitchen. The message that good parents—and in particular, good mothers—cook for their families dovetails with increasingly intensive and unrealistic standards of “good” mothering.

So, define these “unrealistic standards of ‘good’ mothering.”  What exactly is the minimum standard we should all shoot for?

In general, I am a pretty amiable person. I am willing to look at multiple angles of a situation/issue in order to reach common and ground with those whom I may have a difference of opinion. Reading through this study, I certainly felt a bond with, and compassion toward, all of the women they observed. But rather than celebrate the sacrifice of and offer encouragement to these and other women (or men for that matter,) the researchers go full bonehead. Yes, I said bonehead.

The authors of the study point out that the “nostalgia” foodies have for home cooked meals is a fallacy, “They fail to see all of the invisible labor that goes into planning, making, and coordinating family meals. Cooking is at times joyful, but it is also filled with time pressures, tradeoffs designed to save money, and the burden of pleasing others.”

Are you kidding me?  Yes, making dinner is hard, caring and providing for a family is hard. No one ever said it was easy.  I certainly don’t need these women floating in and stamping the word “victim” on my forehead.   If you as a parent aren’t willing (I didn’t say unable) to feed your family then whose responsibility is it?

Fortunately, these non-domestic divas are going to bring us the solutions. Buckle up!

So let’s move this conversation out of the kitchen, and brainstorm more creative solutions for sharing the work of feeding families. How about a revival of monthly town suppers, or healthy food trucks? Or perhaps we should rethink how we do meals in schools and workplaces, making lunch an opportunity for savoring and sharing food. Could schools offer to-go meals that families could easily heat up on busy weeknights? Without creative solutions like these, suggesting that we return to the kitchen en masse will do little more than increase the burden so many women already bear.”

Let’s point out the stupidity of this conclusion:

1. Feeding families should be a shared burden by all. Schools and town municipalities should be responsible for helping busy families eat.

I am a huge advocate of the Food Bank and will always donate to this cause. I do not want to ever see any child go hungry, but there is a difference between a true need and when something is just difficult (if only slightly.)  The researchers’ “solution” that to-go meals for busy families should be provided by their children’s schools is ridiculous. Because schools, having achieved every other single goal in educating our children, should now serve take out.  Do these researchers educate their children in the back room of a Kentucky Fried Chicken?  Why should we move the responsibility for feeding one’s family away from that family and assign that responsibility to the public education sector?  In what universe does that make any sense at all?

The traditional mealtime, that we have enjoyed throughout recorded civilization, loosely resembling this:

would now look more like this:

And we would call it “progress?”

2. How about a revival of monthly town suppers?

I get the feeling that the researchers have attended precious few of these events, exemplified by the American traditional Church Picnic.  You see, these types of meals are a LOT of work for many people.  Somebody is cooking and preparing the food.  It doesn’t fall as if manna from Heaven.  People spend a lot of time preparing the seating and eating area and will stay to clean up after it is done.  I would suspect that the researches make up that that subset of attendees that breeze in late with their ratty bag of chips purchased from the clearance aisle of the gas station ten minutes prior and proceed to load up on the deviled eggs before anyone else has a chance.  (Seriously people, take one, or at most two, then move along. People more polite than yourself are fantasizing about breaking your hand when you reach for your third.)  They then blow out with their arms stuffed with portable goodies before the cleanup is to begin.

The thing is, that this is just one meal, and it is a lot of work for those that aren’t freeloading.  You aren’t saving any effort, you are just transferring the extra effort to others.  It really isn’t a sustainable solution.

3. Perhaps we should rethink how we do meals .. in workplaces, making lunch an opportunity for savoring and sharing food?

Brilliant plan, my employer is now responsible for not only my salary, my health insurance, and collecting taxes for the government, they should be directly feeding all of my family members.  And apparently the actual food wouldn’t be enough, the experience must be memorable and relaxing. Top notch solution ladies.  I’ll schedule the violinist and medi pedies and bill it to the boss.  For those of us that are self employed?  I guess we all are back to the Hell of home prepared meals. . .

4. This study completely leaves out the fact that not all women are the ones who cook for the family.

Quite often men DO cook and do it well and contribute and share in the work of feeding family members. Children can also be enlisted to help contribute to the making of meals, but perhaps that would be considered to be”unrealistic standards of “good” mothering?”

Now How About Some Real Statistics?

According to a study (Do Family Meals Really Matter) by the Cornell University Department of Policy Analysis and Management researchers found:

  • By engaging in family meals your child be 35% less likely to have an eating disorder
  • Your child will also be 24% more likely to eat healthier foods and 12% less likely to be obese.

Or how about these statistics from a study published in The Journal of Adolescent Health based on a nationally representative sample of 26,069 Canadian adolescents ages 11 to 15 in 2010. Please note the much larger sample size of this study versus the one we are discussing with just 250 families .

With each additional dinner, researchers found fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors toward others and higher life satisfaction, regardless of gender, age or family economics.

Bringing In The Real World

I have discussed before here on JENerally Informed that mealtimes aren’t always perfect and they don’t have to be. Some of the best meals are made with simple ingredients and simply made. Last night I fed my family dinner at a cost of $1.50, was it something I would take pictures of, no, but it filled all of our stomachs. It also afforded us an opportunity to talk about our day and brought us together for a short period of time. This doesn’t happen every night, but it happens as as often as we can make it and is a time we all look forward to.

To the researchers I would like to close with the thought that perhaps if you had spent those 250 observation hours actually helping the families you spent time with instead of documenting their “struggle” then you might have been actually able to count the world better for your effort instead of gracing us with your garbage “study.”

Kudos to all of the Mother’s and Father’s out there every day who struggle to care for their family. It isn’t easy, but nothing that’s worth it ever is.

Stay Happy! Stay Informed!




  1. Huh. Interesting. I, for one, hate cooking dinner. But only because I’m terrible at it and not creative and I hate cleaning up after it. BUT. I still do it every day. And I’ve accepted that its a necessary and even wonderful part of the day. Well the eating and the talking are wonderful. Not so much the making it part. Maybe these people were doing a study of people like me. . . oh man maybe they even bugged my phone and listened to me call my husband every day and say, “What should I make for dinner?” and then him say, “I don’t know.” and then me say, “Well just tell me what to make.” And then him make like five suggestion and then me shoot them all down. It’s possible. . .
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  2. This was so ridiculous (their ‘study,’ not your post) that I had to go read the article on Slate, read the ‘study’ on SAGE Journal, and do some digging into their resumes on my own. My totally scientific, should-have-been-funded-for-gobs-of-American-money findings are as follows: Oh. $!@k. No.

    They define “good mothering” by citing a sociologist KNOWN to have an incendiary position on motherhood. Not only is it highly controversial (and poor standing for social commentary), but it was published nearly 20 years ago! Yeah, that’s a current reference for the problem that exists TODAY.

    This is research? How did this take a year and half to research? Some of their “findings” include this nugget of a news break: A young child complains about eating dinner! Oh, wow. Really? This whole US food system thing has really gone awry if a child complains about having to choke down broccoli!

    And the follow up Pulitzer-worthy observation from this research: sometimes family members don’t appreciate what these mothers do. What? No way! You mean there are women (AND MEN) out there who are sometimes unappreciated by their spouses and offspring? Holy cow – let me bring you the award right now!

    {starts slow clap}

    Rubbish. And you’re spot on, Jen, that their conclusions are beyond ridiculous. I kind of wish I’d been there when this was read aloud to the Socio/Anthro department they work in. Oh wow, would I have had a wonderful time.
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    1. Author

      Thanks Sarah I am so glad you agree on how bogus this study is! I thought that quote by Sharon Hays was ridiculous, “good mothering requires intense devotion”. I was like WHAT so half assed parenting should be the norm?

      This study is seriously one of the stupidest thing I have ever seen. No doubt there are people for whom buying food and feeding their families is difficult and that issue needs to not be ignored,but this study is so foolish in it’s sampling and actual findings that I just couldn’t keep my mouth closed.

      I wish I could have been there when they presented it as well.
      Jen recently posted…Breaking News! Making Dinner Is Hard And Should Now Be Someone Else’s ResponsibilityMy Profile

  3. I definitely get tired of cooking dinner, especially when the kids complain, but I don’t want anyone else taking over that responsibility. Yes, there’s a lot of effort that goes into making dinner, but the benefits are long lasting and so worth it. I may not think so every night, but overall for sure! Now if someone else wants to take over grocery shopping using my list, I’m on board! :)
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  4. Call me old fashioned but I think eating is a basic need and cooking is a basic requirement for that need. And uhm…shouldn’t people cook for themselves and the people they are responsible for? I mean, what else are we supposed to do? Become dependent on someone else to feed us or prep our meals? Look, I eat out ALL the time. But it’s not because I expect someone to, it’s because sometimes I don’t feel like cooking. This is such a freakshow of an article.
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  5. Jen,

    Your title cracked me up, and I made sure to click your “Click to Tweet” button, it was just too enticing to pass up. I have total mom guilt about cooking… I really don’t do it as much as I should. Truthfully, since my third son was born I hardly ever cook. My microwave is my best friend!

    One of these days I’m going to do better. Maybe. Or not. =)

    But at least I’m not saying it’s right! Home-cooked meals are ideal, for sure. We do the best we can, eh?

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  6. Jen, hear, hear! There is so much to be said for sharing a meal with your family, regardless of what it took to get there – it’s always worth it.
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  7. That study is quite ridiculous! Is feeding a family hard and a lot of work? Sure. Is it worth it? Absolutely. I don’t come by cooking naturally. It has literally taken me 15 years to learn the skills I have now. When all my kids were little, there was a lot of meal prep done out of survival and necessity. I can honestly say that I now sometimes find cooking enjoyable. I really love your responses to the study!

    1. Author

      Thanks Stacey!

      I remember visiting my grandma as a young girl and she cooked without recipes and by adding pinches of this and that. I thought that was how I was supposed to be able to cook. I didn’t realize until many years into cooking that she was able to do that because she had learned and mastered these recipes from memory. I still can’t do this very well, but at least I’m cooking. That’s good!
      Jen recently posted…Breaking News! Making Dinner Is Hard And Should Now Be Someone Else’s ResponsibilityMy Profile

  8. “It doesn’t fall as if manna from Heaven.” – LOL! Those community/Sunday meals are a HUGE job!! I can’t believe that would be part of the solution for us mothers. :P
    On the topic of dinner, though…my husband and I have talked about it before and we came up with a plan, so to speak, but I haven’t followed through with it yet. It would consist of fixing and having dinner much earlier in the day (4/4:30) so that I’m not yet exhausted when the clean-up is supposed to take place. He said he’d happily have leftovers or whatever when he gets home from work if it made my job easier. I’m not sure if I’ll ever do it but it sounds pretty good in theory. :)
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    1. Thanks Ashley!
      Don’t be too hard on yourself, we can’t do it every night either in our family or we would be eating dinner at 10 p.m. and or 3 p.m. Do it when you can with whatever you’ve got to make a meal and that’s great :) Last night my kids loved the mac n cheese and apple sauce we had for dinner, awesome domestic skills right??
      Jen recently posted…Mommy Reality #17: Pillow PowerMy Profile

  9. I love how you picked apart this study, Jen! You made great points. I love our nice, private family meals :). We talk about so much and I cherish that time together. That slurpee picture of the baby in the floor is killing me. I’m such a germaphobe! So many great laughs and thoughts here.
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  10. OMG. I cannot get over the slurpee baby picture. I can’t make out an emergency. WHY IS THE BABY ON THE GROUND!?!?!

    Making dinner is hard. Doing dishes is worse. The hardest part for me is coming up with different ideas so I’m not feeding Baby doesn’t eat the same thing all the time, while also cooking it fast enough to keep him entertained with the toys in the kitchen. I know there are a million ideas online, but that’s a million things to shift through, and my computer time is very precious. I cannot wait until he can tell me what he actually likes!
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    1. It is so hard cooking with little people!! When they get a bit older you can set them up with coloring or small crafts while you cook, but littles forget it! Trying to keep them out of the kitchen and safe and occupied while you cook is tough. I try to prep for dinner during nap time, but sometimes I really need to do other things during that precious time so dinner is like pancakes or mac n cheese those nights.

      Good luck my friend and just wait till he can start telling you what he likes and doesn’t like, if he is anything like my children you will think oh goodness, what do you actually like??
      Jen recently posted…Mommy Reality #17: Pillow PowerMy Profile

  11. Oh, Wow! This study sure does sound stupid! I get that planning and executing a nice family dinner 7 nights a week is hard work, but there are other solutions than public school take out and church BBQs. For instance, I made a meal in the crockpot Sunday morning for dinner on Sunday night. Then at the time when I would usually cook Sunday dinner, I made dinner for tonight (Monday). Now I’m a day ahead and I can try to stay that way or take a night off. It’s not rocket science!
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