The number one comment I hear from fellow parents is how they can’t stand cooking for their families. Every. Single. Day. As much as I love to cook, I agree: feeding your family is a chore, and whether it’s the planning, the shopping, the cooking or the clean up that wears on you—or all of the above—it can be draining even for the most experienced and enthusiastic cooks. There’s no magic fairy dust to whisk the drudgery of it away. Any task you must repeat several times daily is going to drag on you, let alone one that meets with frequent resistance from its beneficiaries. The eye-rolling, the cries of “Yuck!” and the inexplicable food phobias with which every parent is familiar make feeding children a particularly thankless job. And yet we have to keep doing it, because if we stop, it won’t end well. It’s like the line from Waiting for Godot: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” Only the breadth of a comma separates the impossibility of continuing from the need to.
Food is a necessity, and always has been (and always will unless these guys win) but the pressure to cook for one’s family is stronger than ever. We have more food options than any previous generation of parents, but if you give your child take-out, pre-packaged or processed food every day, you are at risk of having your Good Parenting card revoked. Naturally, the increased pressure to provide “healthy meals” coincided beautifully with the rise in two-working-parent households. The shortcuts and sanity-saving solutions of our youth (Hot Pockets, anyone? Campbell’s Chunky Soup with tiny hamburgers in the soup?) are now all but taboo, according to health experts, yet parents feel more time pressure than ever before. Poor eating habits seem to correlate to every negative outcome we fear for our children: obesity, anorexia, sodium overload, poor behavior in schools, ADHD, allergies, and so on, but when are we supposed to find time to cook?
Here are a few ways to take the burden off, at least a little. You do still have to cook something: put down the delivery menu! But you don’t have to invest in a special meal program, buy a cookbook of 20-minute weeknight recipes or become some kind of super-chef to do it. Nor do you have to spend the whole weekend cooking for your freezer (though it would be awesome if you could). Changing a few things about your routine and attitude can make a big improvement in how you feel about that endless parade of family meals stretching past the horizon.
One awesome benefit of resolving to cook as much as you can for your kids, using real food, is that you will feel so much better about the nights when all you can manage is to boil up some hotdogs or order pizza. Even a baked potato with a choice of toppings or a high-quality grilled cheese with apple slices on the side counts (to me, at least). A few nights of home cooking mitigate a surprising amount of guilt. Trust me.
What I cooked this week and last: