The family meal—lionized in picture books, movies, nostalgic TV shows and government guides to healthy eating—is, for many Americans, an unattainable idea, new research finds. While it might be trendy in the foodie circles to advocate a return to home-cooked meals, in reality, creating those meals is either completely out of reach or a burdensome chore and source of stress for many households.
To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers interviewed 150 mothers of different races and socioeconomic standing. They also spent 250 hours observing the dinner rituals of 12 different families, Slate reports. Most of the mothers took the home-cooked meal ideal to heart and wanted to fulfill its expectations. But they struggled to do so, the team found.
Time and money tended to be the biggest obstacles. Some moms had unpredictable work schedules, Slate says, and even those who got off work at 6:00 p.m. each evening struggled to find time to go shopping, cook and tend to all of their other kid-related duties. Other families lacked the money to buy fresh produce or meat. Some didn't have the resources necessary to set up a cooking-equipped kitchen.
For those who did manage to regularly pull together a home-cooked meal, their efforts were often met with whines and complaints from both their kids and husbands or boyfriends. As the researchers reported, “We rarely observed a meal in which at least one family member didn’t complain about the food they were served.”
Based on these findings, the researchers conclude: "Our conversations with mothers of young children show us that this emerging standard is a tasty illusion, one that is moralistic, and rather elitist, instead of a realistic vision of cooking today. Intentionally or not, it places the burden of a healthy home-cooked meal on women."