“What I really want for Mother’s Day is to spend the day in the kitchen,” said no woman ever. I was out running errands recently when I saw these “Mother’s Day Aprons” for sale. At first, it just made me laugh and think to myself that I don’t know one woman who would want an apron for Mother’s Day, and that anyone who buys a mom a Mother’s Day apron might as well accompany it with a “Get Back in the Kitchen” card. Then, I started thinking about my mom and my grandmother. While my mom made dinner for us almost every night, I can’t ever remember cooking with her when I was growing up. My parents were divorced, my mom worked a lot, and the kitchen was really small, so it wasn’t easy for two people to be in there at once. My grandmother, on the other hand, had plenty of time. She didn’t work, her kids were grown, and she was constantly looking for something to do between tennis and mahjong. When I would come over we’d spend hours making her Mandel bread recipe, lasagna, or whatever else she was cooking for dinner that night. She’d teach me how to make sauces from scratch, explain why baking was more precise than cooking, and regale me with stories of whatever Indian or Chinese-inspired recipe she’d recently whipped up for one of her many dinner parties. These memories I have of cooking with my grandmother when I was little are the ones I still cherish the most, even 14 years after her death. So after I left the store I started thinking, should women get back in the kitchen?
According to the NPD Group’s Eating Patterns in America series, women spent more than 112 minutes cooking each day, on average, in the 1960’s compared to just 66 minutes in 2008. This is likely due to more working women and the greater availability of packaged and ready-to-eat foods in the 2000’s compared to the 1960’s. In our house, I think I’m closer to the 112 minutes per day of cooking time because I frequently let my 2-year old and 4-year old daughters help me in the kitchen. Their “help” inevitably makes the entire process WAY more time consuming and a whole lot messier; it seems like one kid is always dropping food on the floor while the other one eats each piece of carrot right after I chop it, until all the carrots are gone and there’s none left for dinner. I spend so much time cooking that now, whenever my daughters are looking for me they go straight to the kitchen and if I’m not there they just stand there perplexed, having no idea where else I would be. However, I’m a registered dietitian and my business is centered around food, so I can justify the extra time I spend cooking because it quite literally helps me put my money where my mouth is. That being said, there also are days we order take out, there are days we eat a frozen dinner, and there’s even the super rare day (like a sighting of Nessie the Loch Ness monster rare) that my husband cooks.
Realistically, I know my grandmother’s generation is a thing of the past. But that’s not all bad. For women who spend all day at work and only have time with their kids in the evenings and on weekends, convenience foods have helped us spend more time with our families. Before the advent of packaged and ready-to-eat foods, women in my grandmother’s generation were married to the chopping block, oven, and stove. But women of my generation can forgo most of the prep and cooking time by assembling packaged ingredients into a meal, which lets us enjoy dinner with our families and still have time to read to our kids before bed. However, these same convenience and ready-to-eat foods have made it so easy for us that we’ve also lost a generation of cooks. There’s no need to chop when you can by pre-chopped vegetables, no need to decide which seasonings to add to rice when you can buy pre-seasoned rice that cooks in minutes, and no need to comb through family recipes when you subscribe to a meal delivery service. So, the question is this: How do we balance the demands of a busy schedule with putting home-cooked, healthful meals on our tables AND letting our kids help with the prep and cooking? For starters, we can learn about our family recipes from our mother’s and grandmother’s and then prepare those recipes with our kids. Carving out a few hours on a set day each month to prepare a family meal, and scheduling the time increases the likelihood it will actually happen. It also gives kids something to look forward to and helps create a family tradition. Over time, sharing cooking experiences with your kids can help foster life-long skills and interests, and lend itself to many teaching opportunities, like following directions, math and measuring, and healthful eating. Plus, when your kids are old enough, they’ll be able to cook a meal for YOU! As if those benefits aren’t enough, new research from Oregon State University suggests that eating home-cooked dinners on a regular basis is associated with better diet quality (i.e., eating fewer calories and less sugar and fat), and lower cost, meaning your health and your wallet may also benefit. If you need a recipe to start out with, try my grandmother’s Mandel Bread recipe, below.
There are days I think of my grandmother and wish I could spend more time cooking with her. I’ll never get that time with her again, but the memories of spending time with her in the kitchen are what encourage me to say yes instead of no when my girls ask me if they can help. At first, those Mother’s Day Aprons made me laugh and feel slightly offended at the same time, but then I started thinking about my grandmother and what I’m passing down to my own kids. I started to think, maybe women should turn off the Cooking Channel and turn on our ovens. Maybe we should put our to-do lists on the backburner and put a home-cooked meal on the front. Maybe women should get back in the kitchen, just not on Mother’s Day.