On his blog Practicing Resurrection, Bill recently wrote “Too Busy to Cook,” a good piece that included suggestions for harried households where people feel too exhausted to cook after a long day at work. This is no small matter, and I know this from personal experience. Once upon time, both Clif and I worked outside the house, and we had two active teenagers who were involved with music, band, and other school activities.
Our lives were busy, busy, busy. Somehow, though, we always found time to cook and eat dinner together. The meals were not fancy—there was a lot of roasted chicken and baked potatoes and pasta and salads—but they were hearty and nutritious. For me—and I know each family is different—the key was to involve everyone in the prep work, the setting of the table, and the clean-up.
My daughters learned to chop and peel and dice at an early age. My mother-in-law, who lived with us, also helped. Not only did she peel and chop, but she washed lots and lots of dishes, and usually one of my daughters would help by drying them.
As I wrote in the comment section of Bill’s blog post, many hands make the task light. It was true in the good old days, and it is still true now. When cooking is a team effort, everybody wins. The chief cook—in this case me, but sometimes it is the husband—doesn’t feel resentful and overwhelmed. Let’s just say mealtimes are ever so much more pleasant if the cook doesn’t feel put upon. In addition, the meal comes together quicker when everyone is helping.
Home cooking is usually more nutritious than meals eaten out. Long before Michael Pollan came on the scene, we were eating real food and cooking with basic ingredients. My girls were not overweight and neither was my husband. (Alas, I’ve always struggled with my weight. My body is just so efficient at storing calories, and I am what might called a good eater. On the other hand, my husband loses weight when I diet. Do I feel bitter about this? You bet I do. But I digress.)
Then there is gathering together around the table each night for dinner. To me, this is priceless. When the girls lived at home, over dinner we talked about our day and what we did. We discussed politics and current events. Sometimes we argued, but I am convinced that time at the dinner table not only bonded us as a family but also set a tone that has rippled forward many years latter. Even today, we still like to cook together and gather around the table and talk and sometimes argue. Now that our daughters have moved out and my mother-in-law has passed away, my husband helps with cooking for family gatherings. Truly, with my creaky knees, I couldn’t do it without him.
But perhaps the best thing of all was that my daughters learned to cook without knowing they were being taught. As my daughter Shannon has pointed out, helping me in the kitchen taught her the basics, and this put her at a real advantage when she and Mike got together. While Shannon had never planned meals, she knew how to chop, peel, and dice, how to get food ready. A little advice from me along with a few good cookbooks, and she was ready to go.
The moral of this story? Teach those children to chop as soon as they can safely wield a knife. Get the husband to help, too. There is no reason why one person should do it all and thus feel even more harried at the end of a busy day.