Monday, September 8, 2014

Study Shows Home-Cooked Meals Cause Mother Stress

A new study suggests that cooking meals is a stress factor for mothers, particularly in the list of things good mothers do.

It took a team of researchers a 1 ½ years to figure that out.  They could’ve spent a week in my house and went on to use the rest of the 77 weeks making ground-breaking discoveries such as getting children out of the house for school in the morning is stressful, transporting kids to after-school activities requires a lot of family time juggling, and getting curly-haired girls to sit down to get their hair down is the cause for many many adult and child-sized tears.  But back to this study.

Some of the mothers they talked to were working poor, trying to prepare home-cooked meals in a cockroach-infested hotel bathroom or a trailer being taken over by ants, or without reliable transportation to the grocery store to buy fresh fruit.  Yes, I would believe that a home-cooked meal is a source of worry for these moms. But the bigger stressor seems to be having a decent home.  I’m sure a lot of things cause you gray hairs when you are in such financial dire straits.

The middle-class mothers also reported that this notion of feeding the family is a burden because they have to plan meals that meet each family’s members personal tastes. Really?  Where is that written in the mom-handbook?  Catering to each person’s preference is a (modern) mom-made stressor, myself included. Even making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches requires referring to my mental notes of preferences – one PB & strawberry jelly, one PB & grape jelly, one PB only, on strawberry jelly only. Sheesh!  But when it comes to the more complicated stuff, like dinner? It’s pretty much take it or get yourself a bowl of cereal.  We do our kids some kind of disservice letting them think that the home kitchen is their own personal restaurant.  Sure, they may hide the peas under the mashed potatoes every now and then, but isn’t that better (for the mom) than making a serving of peas, another serving of broccoli, a spinach salad, and a pot of collard greens just to make everybody happy?  Kids need to learn that they don’t get their way all the time and figure out solutions to deal with that reality, even if it does mean sneaking a brussel sprout into a napkin every now and then.

Additionally, our busy lives makes the idea of going grocery shopping, bringing it all home, cooking something delicious, and serving it on one table to the entire family at one time an exercise in breaking the time continuum.  (How many researchers did this take to figure that out?)  In fact, my latest mom-freak out was looking at my son’s swim schedule this season and realizing that swim practice is at 6 o’clock pm (the proper dinner time) four days a week.  This, after I loaded to our calendar the girls’ tennis and basketball schedules.  And my PTA and sorority meetings. And dad’s work travel schedule.  We’re never going to eat dinner at the table as a family for the next year.

The researchers of the study gave some recommendations for solutions that have yet to be available (to-go dinners provided by the schools) or that seem financially unfeasible, like eating from food trucks (because surely someone who is living in a buggy hotel has the funds to eat out every night - not).

In my research, which has taken about 15 years and involved my circle of friends, here’s a few solutions that the busy mom might find helpful to relieve some of the stress of feeding the household.  I don’t do them all, all the time, but when I have, I found they help.
  • Plan meals for the week in relation to the family schedule. Include breakfast, lunch, and a plan to make use of leftovers.
  • Make a grocery list to support the meal plan and use coupons.  I’m not the super-couponer, but saving even a few dollars each trip helps.
  • Make use of the crockpot. This is a busy family’s magic food cooker – put a bunch of stuff in it in the morning, with a little liquid of some sort, turn it on and voila – dinner.  I’ve posted my Crockpot Spaghetti and Asian Chicken recipes, to give you a few ideas.
  • Use some pre-cooked or pre-prepared ingredients. Pick up a bag of salad, a rotisserie chicken, and make some pasta when you get home.
  • Teach the children to cook.  You can be doing laundry or something if you let the kids boil the spaghetti or batter the chicken. Do not, however, feel compelled to cook with your children because this can cause even greater stress.
  • Cook for tomorrow.  After everyone’s gone to bed and you’re piddlin’ around the house, put a chicken or a roast in the oven, cook the pasta for tomorrow’s dinner.  Nothing says you have to cook at 5 pm.
  • Do plan every now and then for the meal out. Because sometimes you just are not home to even cook the home-cooked meal.

And moms, one thing to really relieve some stress?  
Realize that everything does not have to be ready for Cooking Channel and Pinterest. You do not have to have garnish and a perfectly plated meal. You do not have to cut all your vegetables to look like a beautiful sunrise to entice the kids to eat it. The real point of the family meal is the gathering of family to break bread together. Yes, you hovering over the hot stove all day is a nice, housewife-y touch, but isn’t really a requirement.  Make it healthy, make it something at least some of the people like, and be proud of yourself that you made it through another day.

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