Am I a Kitchen Fanatic?

by Laura on June 13, 2010

in Blog

The other day, Grayson said to me, “Mom, you’re always in the kitchen.” This comment came during a conversation about the two of us playing together, and his statement was a way to tell me that I don’t play with him enough, instead I’m always cooking.

My heart sunk, as I wondered if this is the way my kids view me — taking more time for food than for them. Am I a cook-aholic, a kitchen fanatic, a Mom obsessed with making sure great tasting, healthy foods are on the table for my kids – that don’t come out of a box found in the pantry or from a fast food outlet down the street? As these questions swirled around in my head, I had a moment of clarity. I put myself in his place, and I could see what he meant. From his perspective, when he wakes up, I’m in the kitchen getting breakfast ready and his lunch for school packed. When he returns home, around 4 p.m., I get him a quick snack, then start making dinner. So, he is correct in saying that I’m always in the kitchen.

Actually, I don’t know how much time I spend in the kitchen each day, but I do know that some days I do feel that I’m in the kitchen all day – especially on the days I bake bread. But, I have a family of six to feed, and that takes a bit of time. Even though Grayson felt (at the time) that I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, I know that he has benefited from my doing so.

There is no doubt that children pattern their behaviors after their parents. And, if highly processed, fast foods or convenience foods are what they are served on an almost daily basis, they quickly become accustomed to that lifestyle. A 2003 study by the Gepetto Group, a New York advertising and marketing agency, found that kids who say they don’t know which foods are healthy and good for them are more likely to want to eat in a fast food restaurant (41%).

Societal changes have played an integral part in changing how (and where) America eats. Fragmenting mealtimes, erosion of basic cooking skills and a desire for use of free time for other activities continue to fuel the desire for time-saving easy meal solutions.

With that in mind, I set out on a search to find the amount of time Americans spend in the kitchen cooking each day. Unfortunately, I dug up no specific number because cooking was always lumped together with other activities, such as house cleaning, laundry or bill paying—in essence, it was considered a chore.

However, I did find some interesting statistics. In the past several years, consumption of food prepared away from home has increased. Sales at full service restaurants were projected to reach $187.4 billion in 2008, an increase of 4.3 percent over 2007, according the Nation Restaurant Association. The NRA also noted that American adults buy a meal or a snack from a restaurant 5.8 times per week on average, spending 48% of their food budget on food away from home. Additionally, 70 percent of adults said their favorite restaurant foods provide flavor and taste sensations, which cannot easily be duplicated in their home kitchens, meaning they have grown accustomed to – and prefer –  foods prepared at a restaurant.

Further, independent market analyst Datamonitor reported that many consumers see basic cooking tasks as difficult, making cooking a low priority when allocating free time. Culinary skills are not being passed down by generation and consumers now perceive basic cooking skills as difficult, and this lack of confidence in cooking may undermine the healthy eating message.

At the same time, those who do cook at home are interested in cooking exciting, flavorful and interesting meals themselves. The home remains the central location for mealtimes, with consumers seeking more authentic foods and flavors. Home cooked meals are the key source of comfort, and offer economy.

But there is another side of the coin to spending time in the kitchen – it’s the time spent eating together around the table. It has been shown that families who eat together have better nutrition, and in turn, have a lower risk of many diseases, including being overweight or obese. A study conducted by Harvard researchers and pub lished in the Archives of Family Medicine, found families who reported eating together ‘almost every day’ took in more healthy nutrients including calcium fiber, iron, and vitamins. Another study also indicated that children who ate meals together with the family ate more fruits and veggies than those who did not. Other benefits of getting around the family table, is that kids do better in school and are less likely to take drugs.

The family meal is a great time to check in with family members, engaging family members in discussion. Children develop language skills, when adults are at table talk is richer. Establishing routine to create family togetherness is essential, and research suggests that cooking and eating at home will have a positive effect on the health of the body and the health of the family.

Go ahead, call me a cook-aholic. I’ll embrace my kitchen fanaticism. If we must call it a chore, it is probably one of the most rewarding chores I will ever perform.

A few interesting statistics that I dug up from the National Restaurant Association’s 2010 Restaurant Industry Forecast.

  • $2,698: Average household expenditure for food away from home in 2008.
  • 40 percent of adults agree that purchasing meals from restaurants and take-out and delivery places makes them more productive in their day-to-day life.
  • 78 percent of adults agree that going out to a restaurant with family or friends gives them an opportunity to socialize and is a better way to make use of their leisure time than cooking and cleaning up.
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