Amanda Marcotte gets a few things right in her Slate piece “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner.”
Marcotte is right to call out food writers such as Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, who tell parents that only certain (read: expensive, boutique-shop carrying, organic, local, heirloom, unprocessed) food will do for little Timmy and Susie. This in fact does make moms (and dads) feel increasing pressure to prepare Pinterest-worthy family meals and spend scarce resources on expensive meat and produce.
Yet, Marcotte goes off the rails in several important areas. First, she suggests it’s only women doing the cooking. Talk about sexism. Second, Marcotte says that the pressure women feel to prepare meals may outweigh the benefits. She bases this on the results of one small study based on interviews with 150 women and observations of twelve families.
But before weighing the benefits to mom and child, Marcotte should do a little more research on what the actual benefits are to children who eat family meals. Consider a large study conducted in 2010 by the University of Ohio and published in the March 2010 issue of the journal Pediatrics that examined the habits of over 8,500 children. It found that children are likely to have a lower risk of obesity if they do three simple things at home: eat dinner with their families more than five times a week, get at least 10.5 hours of sleep per night, and watch two or fewer hours of television on weekdays. Interestingly, children living in households where these routines were practiced were less likely to be obese and this was the case even among children at high risk of obesity (those who had an obese mother, were living in a low-income household, or were living in a single-parent home).
Now tell me, is a chance at avoiding childhood obesity less important than mom being burdened by boiling noodles and sautéing a chicken breast?
About that “burden,” Marcotte writes that cooking for families is just too much for women (so much for women being tough) and isn’t fulfilling: “Beyond just the time and money constraints, women find that their very own families present a major obstacle to their desire to provide diverse, home-cooked meals. The women interviewed faced not just children but grown adults who are whiny, picky, and ungrateful for their efforts.”
I have no idea if Marcotte has kids, but someone might want to tell her that this is all a part of having cranky toddlers. It might come as a shock to her, but it’s hardly surprising to the millions of moms who deal each day with the complaints of children who don’t want to eat this or that. And as for mom’s desire for “diverse” meals, yeah, sure would be nice if my four-year-old demanded cassoulet instead of a cheesy, carb-loaded casserole, sautéed garlic-spiked chard instead of broccoli and cheese and potatoes, dauphinoise instead of mashed potatoes, but you know what, I deal with it because I’m a grown up and I know that for a few years when my kids are young and picky about food, I’m going to have to make some adjustments.
Marcotte also suggests poor families are hardest hit by having to cook for their families. This is typical fare from left-wing writers who often portray low-income Americans as helpless and unable to cope with daily life without the government’s help. Yet research by Share Our Strength — a well-known anti-hunger organizations — shatters this assumption. The study showed that eight in ten low-income families make dinner at home and from scratch at least five times a week. Families only eat fast food on average one night a week. The report also shows that while some families do struggle to cook healthy meals every night, 85 percent of those polled said they want to make healthy meals and believe eating healthy is realistic for them.
Marcotte concludes her piece by suggesting, “These obstacles need to be fixed first.” She would do better to reevaluate who actually creates the anxiety women feel in the first place: the food writers who set up unrealistic expectations about how to feed kids simple and nutritious meals.
— Julie Gunlock is a mother of three boys who annoy her every night with their picky eating. She writes for the Independent Women’s Forum.