How difficult a school is NCSU

Food is ready, so is mother

An American study shows how much pressure on mothers to cook fresh and healthy food every day, and aims to stimulate discussions about new approaches.

These days it's high season again, the picture of the happy family, well dressed and well-haired, sitting at the dining table and enjoying a lovingly prepared meal in a harmonious atmosphere. A recent study by the North Carolina State University (NCSU), which examined the relationship between reality and wishful thinking about the freshly cooked family dinner, shows that it is precisely these shared meals and the ideals associated with them that are sometimes more stressful than nourishing. That in the United States too - despite all the clichés of a nation that only consumes fast food - has recently seen an upswing in public perception. The importance of the meal cooked and eaten together is much higher than assumed: “That was one of the big surprises of the study,” says study director and NCSU lecturer Sarah Bowen in an interview with the “Presse am Sonntag”. “There is a lot going on in the families more freshly cooked and eaten together than we expected ”. Most of the mothers cooked regularly for their families - but that doesn't mean that they were satisfied with what they did.

Never good enough. “They all have the feeling that it is not enough,” said Bowen of another result of their investigation. Together with her NSCU colleague Sinikka Elliott and Joslyn Brenton from Ithaca College, the sociologist interviewed a total of 150 lower-income and middle-class mothers with children between the ages of two and eight. Exclusively mothers - which of course is a shortcoming, after all, it also virtually cemented the role of women in the kitchen. The researchers justify their approach by stating that in the USA the main responsibility for preparing food for the family still rests with women. The researchers also accompanied twelve of the families for more than 250 hours in all dinner-related processes - from shopping to preparation and eating to putting things together.

The result of these observations shows that the stress-inducing factors around family meals focus on three areas: financial problems, time pressure and the need to please everyone.

“Of course, financial problems are a bigger issue for poorer families,” says Bowen, “because there is often a lack of basic equipment such as kitchen equipment or a car to be able to buy fresh on a regular basis.” But middle-class mothers also feel stressed about insufficient funds: “This is about the feeling of not being able to achieve the best for your children, of conforming to ideals and, for example, wanting to cook exclusively with organic products, which not everyone can afford,” the sociologist explains the stress factor.

Finding a joint appointment for the meal is also often difficult: "Especially in poor families, appointments are often difficult to plan, many work in shifts, for example in fast-food restaurants, where plans are constantly changing," says Bowen. The middle-class mothers are doing a little better, especially since in their families the partner is more often involved in the preparation of the meal. However, there is again the pressure of “not having enough time to cook the way it should be”.

Especially since the next dilemma is already waiting for the committed mom: If she takes more time to cook, this is missing again in the "quality time", in which the children can play, do handicrafts or learn. "It's not the case that people sit in front of the television all day," says Bowen, "but really that they simply have less time today, since both often work and other activities with the children are time-consuming."

To please everyone. Which also doesn't let the third big obstacle on the way to a relaxed family dinner get any smaller: the still existing desire to please everyone. All of the women surveyed reported unanimously that it was almost impossible to find a dish that everyone in the family liked. And the serving of special requests leads to financial problems, especially in families, in which the leftover food has to be an integral part of the menu, but also to further time bottlenecks. “Middle-class mothers in particular see it as important to train their children's tastes, and that's why it is important to keep serving them new things to try out,” says the lecturer. "And as is well known, children often reject the unknown, and you have to feed them something new several times before they accept it - which creates additional pressure."

So is the sociologist advocating abolishing home-cooked meals and promoting the triumphant advance of frozen pizzas and Big Macs? “Of course, I am absolutely not against the fresh dinner together, and neither are the mothers we interviewed. But let's just acknowledge that it's work and stress and talk about what it took to make it accessible to everyone. "

There is still enough pressure on the women, and this need not be increased by continuing to convey to them that it is really easy anyway, no effort, and they should just try harder. “I don't have an answer either,” says Bowen, “but there have been initial discussions after the study was published, and we also hear of projects that deal precisely with this.” So a group of mothers started it, five a week Cooking large portions of a dish and swapping frozen meals among themselves. "You can also think about whether school kitchens prepare whole meals in the afternoon or just individual ingredients that the children can then take home," says Bowen of other approaches to the subject.

The market could also react to the changed needs - for example through expanded delivery services from supermarkets - if the problem was named as such. "My aim is to think in society about what it takes to make these meals accessible to everyone - on all kinds of levels," emphasizes Bowen. “And don't just put a little more pressure on the mothers. They already have enough of that. "

("Die Presse", print edition, December 14, 2014)