I read Virginia Heffernan's bold article in the New York Times, Magazine. The Food Issue. What if You Just Hate Making Dinner? over the weekend. It was hard to digest.
My initial thoughts were that if Virginia put in as much sweat into her cooking as she does her writing, she'd be a master chef. And yet, strangely, I agree with much of what she says! Twenty years or more ago, I was a home economics teacher with a young family, who practised what she preached about cooking from scratch and using local ingredients. And still I declared to my inner self (because nobody else was interested) that I hated making dinner too.
Is the Effort worth the Reward?
The problem was that, for the huge effort I was putting in, I wasn't getting the reward. If the effort for Meal 1 (turning on the oven, sticking in a frozen pizza and oven chips) harvests the same reward or more worrying tops the rewards for Meal 2 (a thoughtful dinner with veg, protein and right amount of carbs), dinner time would be a piece of cake even for those who hate cooking. And Virginia would be right about those who put fear into those who don't like cooking.
But who's kidding who? We all know what a balanced plate is and why we need to adhere to it! We know that we can get that with Meal 2. But sadly the pain still too much for too many to face the facts.
No Gain without Pain
The pain of exercising is easily measurable. Who cycles and runs to nowhere, pushes and lift for fun? Toned bodies, trim waists, big biceps and better health. That's the gain.
Cooking the evening meal at least 5 days a week, 20+ days a month and 250+ days a year may be your pain, but whose gain is it exactly? The family gain, of course, and ultimately you too: A healthy weight, better health, peace of mind.
So what I suggest to Virginia is to remove the pain of cooking, starting with all those cookbooks, TV programmes and healthy cooking blogs. Get rid of them. Next be ready for the most despised words you hear around 5pm each evening "Have you figured out dinner yet?"
My son, came home from university one day. He was studying mathematics and one particular weekend he was learning about the Theory of Chaos. I remember saying to him, how could chaos be a theory, it's practised every night between 5 and 6pm in most households. He said read the Butterfly Effect. 'Small changes in the initial conditions lead to drastic changes in the results'. Small changes in the way we process meals lead to drastic changes in our cooking outcomes. A revelation and I had a theory to prove it!
Small Changes in the Way we Process Meals?
Virginia, I empathise with you and thousands of women (and men) out there who dread the mealtime space. I too was one of them until I had the sense to segment the meal making process and simplify my effort. When anyone asks me now 'What's for dinner?' I know because I've planned what we are eating. One week it may be three days planned, next week it could be five days of planning, another week, seven. It all depends on my diary and the family activities. It takes just 20 minutes to plan healthy meals. The shopping is easier, cheaper, better quality and faster. And I've fallen back in love with cooking with the children having discovered pretty good cooking skills and an understanding of what good food is. I'm still as busy now as I ever was but I never think of the evening meal until I'm ready to cook and there's never chaos.
Butterfly effect, you've given me all the mealtime rewards I'll ever need. Please don't pass Virginia by.