Eat out more, cook at home less?



If you’re lucky, you possess somewhere in that vast, gelatinous lock box countless memories of your family eating around a dinner table every night. Some of your most memorable conversations - or arguments - might have happened in that space. Or, you guys laugh now about the persistent awkward silence, punctuated by the sound of forks scraping plates.

Depending on how much interest you had in the preparation of the meal, your memories probably begin and end at the dinner table. You don’t remember watching mom knead meat into a loaf or mash potatoes.

In a new study, researchers at N.C. State University say apathy or disinterest from family members in the process of cooking (or in the end result) is one of the many reasons home-cooked meals are more strenuous than they’re worth.

Researchers followed 150 black, Latino and white mothers from various tax brackets around for a year, interviewing them extensively about what it takes to put a home-cooked meal on the table. For many — especially, it seems, mothers with limited means — buying ingredients for and preparing a meal and cleaning up afterward proved a stressful, labor-intensive process that only added to the burden of a full-time job.

Prepared meals have gotten such a bad rep in recent years, from food columnists harping on their ills to TV personalities like Rachel Ray saying everyone has time to prepare a 30-minute meal. Buying your family dinner is practically taboo. But Ray is a childless millionaire with a TV crew to prepare for and clean up after her show, and food columnists make a living cooking and writing about food. No one's denying that cooking at home is better than buying a bunch of Happy Meals. You can control how much fat and salt you consume, and you often save money. But maybe we should reconsider our expectations, both for ourselves and for our home cooks.

The study offers this:

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.

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