News on Wellness

Is the Stress of Cooking Worth the Benefits?

cookingResearchers from North Carolina State University just concluded a new study whereby the stress of cooking family meals may outweigh benefits. In today’s society, it is common for family meals to consist of quick processed and canned foods, opposed to made-from-scratch meals that take time to prepare and cook.

Trying to find the time and spending extra money to fix healthy homemade meals is tough enough but adding to the stress is that some family members have extremely picky palates. Even in homes where the man of the family helps, researchers discovered that the stress of cooking falls primarily on the woman.

As part of this new study, 150 white, black, and Hispanic mothers participated, with income levels ranging from poor to middle-class. In addition, researchers spent over 250 hours with the families during mealtime, grocery shopping, and taking the children to doctor’s appointments. No matter the income level, the majority of mothers in the study felt overwhelmed and stressed.

Sinikka Elliott, associate professor of sociology at North Carolina University, was surprised at the consistent outcome across the different social classes. Regardless if the families were poor, working class, or of middle class income status, there were definite burdens of being mothers in today’s world. In fact, researchers found that expectations are becoming increasingly harder to handle.

Some of the expectations placed on today’s moms come from public health officials who promote home cooked meals, food critics trying to push women to healthier food choices, and even celebrity chefs who make incredibly delicious and creative meals. The message from all three groups is for women to make meals from scratch, which are ultimately richer in nutrients that reduce risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.

The biggest problem for women is trying to find the time to make homemade meals, which includes those of middle class who have opportunity to purchase fresh ingredients. However, women of all social economic standing are extremely busy getting kids back and forth to different activities and doctor’s appointments and many work 40 hours a week or more, some not arriving home until 6:00 pm or later.

Assistant professor of sociology of Ithaca College, Joslyn Brenton, adds that while a family would enjoy a slow-cooked meal made with fresh, organic ingredients, the problem is not having adequate time or finances. As one mother of three who works full-time and gets help from her husband puts it, there is simply not enough time to shop, let alone cook.

Stress also comes from feeling guilty that there is not enough time or money to provide the family with good, home cooked meals nightly, or at minimum, several times a week. Again, this is a struggle for women in the middle-class range but something even more difficult for those with lower income. After all, there is often an issue of no or limited transportation to the grocery store, lack of basic kitchen tools, and lack of money to buy better food products.

Although no solution to the problem came from the study, researchers do believe that with a little creativity, solutions are available. This might include using provided food delivery services to low income neighborhoods, community suppers, and perhaps taking advantage of schools where take-home meals are offered.

Sarah Bowen, assistant professor of sociology at North Carolina State University goes on to say that it is important for women and men to understand the value associated with home cooked meals but to also recognize the various challenges. Meals need to provide proper nutrition but to make home cooking less stressful and thereby more beneficial, people will need to consider options.

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