Friday, September 12, 2014

Family Meals

Slate recently published a piece on an academic study about family meals. It has long been shown that family meals make a tremendous impact on families. Families who regularly eat dinner together usually have kids who are less likely to do drugs, drink alcohol, and smoke. Some researchers decided to study family dinners and the impact on the women who typically prepare these dinners. They concluded that for poor women, making dinner is too difficult, costly, and doesn't yield results. I wanted to throw something at my screen when I read the study, because I think the researchers missed the whole point of the family dinner.

Family mealtime is awesome--not because of the food--but because it is a time for the family to bond and reconnect. Maybe the reason families who regularly have family dinner together have such good results is that they already have strong connections and the mealtime is just one piece of the puzzle. If a family is in crisis--particularly one that is in deep poverty and is homeless or transient--then family mealtime probably isn't making a big difference for them. Their children are more likely to be exposed to drugs, alcohol, and smoking. 

The authors also concluded that cooking well is too expensive and difficult to do. When I read studies like this, I wonder if the authors themselves have ever prepared a simple meal or actually know how to cook from scratch, or if they live off prepared foods or takeout. 

I have been cooking meals for 16 years for my family, mostly from scratch, and always on a tight budget. The only time in my life that my family could afford to eat out once a week or even once a month was while we lived in Saudi Arabia. I have to budget and plan what to purchase. Trust me, my budget isn't as high as you think it would cost to feed a family of 8. I purchase a lot of produce, inexpensive cuts of meat, and pantry staples. I don't buy crackers, chips, soda, candy, cookies, mixes, frozen meals, deli food, etc. I buy meat in bulk when it is on sale. I watch for sales, buying produce in season, when it is on sale. I buy frozen vegetables when they are a good price. My grocery store has a reduced price produce cart where they substantially reduce the price on produce that will go bad soon. For a long time, I had cheap pots and pans from Walmart and cheap knives from Walmart and Ikea. Heck, my favorite chopping knife is one we bought from Ikea for about $9. My dishes are inexpensive ones I bought at Walmart. We've been using them for years. I have seen sets of dishes at thrift stores and all kinds of great pots and pans and cooking utensils. Sure they are used, but if you clean them up, they usually work just fine. There are inexpensive hotplates you can purchase. If you are careful a few dollars does go a long way. Now, I'm not saying that any of this is easy, but it is possible, if you are willing to be creative, inventive, and careful. Libraries have loads of cookbooks with a lot of information about cooking. 

I learned to cook from my mother--the thriftiest and most skillful woman with money I have ever encountered. She paid for Christmas--with cash-mind you, from what you saved on her grocery budget every month. We ate well and were never hungry. She was careful and deliberate about what she prepared. The food was never elaborate, but it was healthy and plentiful. She fed us and saved money on an uncertain income. My dad owned a construction business and you don't get paid if you don't have a job that you are working. When you own your own business, you will go without if you need to pay your workers and money is tight.

And that was a rambly mess of ranting and raving (but I don't think it really matters because no one reads this anyway).  My point: learn to cook--it will save your life. Learn to budget and be thrifty.


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