Cooking for Your Family: Why It Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful

There seems to be a disconnect between foodies and the average American family. There are popular magazines, websites and entire networks devoted to cooking, kitchen gadgets, cuisine and techniques. Take a look at Pinterest, one of the largest website databases of food pictures and recipes —  you would think everyone loves to be in the kitchen! Yet in my private practice, I see family after family struggling to stay out of the drive-through and instead make a healthy meal for their families.  

Popular food writer Mark Bittman tells everyone that the goal is for families to “see cooking as a joy rather than a burden.” Journalists like Slate.com’s Amanda Marcotte think that is far from reality. In her recent article "The Tyranny of the Homecooked Family Dinner," Marcotte says that cooking for most families really is a burden on our time and finances and, “in order to see cooking as fun, then these obstacles need to be fixed first.” 

As a business owner, blogger, wife and mom of two, I have always been more practical-minded. I know firsthand what it’s like to juggle all those hats, so I understand Marcotte’s bold statement of cooking being a burden. May I dare say that some days I feel that way as a mother? We need to stop shaming parents for not regarding cooking as a joy because, as a registered dietitian nutritionist who loves food, I don’t always feel that way! I think it is phenomenal that there are parents out there that thoroughly love the experience of cooking every day, and I applaud you for that. But be patient with those who don't feel the same — that doesn't mean that they care less about their families or their nutritional futures. We can find a happy medium on this topic.  

Best Recipe = Connection + Nutrition

As a pediatric nutrition specialist, I believe the best thing we can give our children is a positive way for food to connect us as a family. As we physically refuel our bodies, we also refill tanks of human connection. But we must take the stress out of it, and much of that is letting go of an unrealistic expectation of yourself or how you want to be perceived by others. If we are connecting with our families, and we put together a nutritionally balanced meal, then we have won. Some may choose to do it in more elaborate ways while others equally as committed are finding more practical solutions. I vacillate between these two camps. Weekdays, when I have seen patients all day long and I just want to come home and relax, seem a bit more burdensome. Those are days that I gravitate toward more practical dinners. But weekends and holidays are when I really enjoy experimenting with new foods and flavors. 

Stone Soup has done such a great job at providing solutions for families that are easy, practical and nutritious. A couple of my favorite posts on the topic include:

Family-Style Meals Raise Healthy Eaters by Natalia Stasenko, MS, RDN, CN

Food Planning for Busy Weeks by Britany Chin, RD, LD

Some featured book reviews on the topic include:

Clean Eating for Busy Families: Get Meals on the Table in Minutes with Simple and Satisfying Whole-Foods Recipes You and Your Kids Will Love, by Michelle Dudash, RD

Quick and Easy Homemade Meals, by Emma Long

Fast and Simple Gluten-Free, by Gretchen F. Brown, RD

My personal favorite resource for many years has been Aviva Goldfarb’s Six O’Clock Scramble meal newsletter that contains five weekly recipes and a customizable shopping list. Although Aviva is not a dietitian, she works with dietitians on many of her recipe projects, and she’s a working mom who wants to provide families flavorful meals that are easy to prepare. Her recipes have what I call the “perfect trifecta” — easy, tasty and healthy. She also has published two cookbooks that contain many of her recipes.

The USDA’s MyPlate Anatomy is also helpful when it comes to building a healthy meal. Since its release back in 2010, families have an easy, well-researched visual that shows them components to a balanced plate. The MyPlate website is loaded with ways to shop on a budget and plan meals in money-saving ways.

Whether you love to cook or see it as a burden, you can make your family meals count. Use the easy formula of pleasant connections plus balanced nutrition as your recipe — and utilize the many great tools out there to make it happen.

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Angela Lemond
Angela Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD, is a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and registered dietitian nutritionist in private practice. Read her blog, Lemond Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.