For the first time in history, Americans spent more money going out to eat and drink last year than on groceries. We are obsessed with food, from watching endless cooking competitions on television to Instagramming every dish we eat. We’re just not that into making it. We spend less time cooking than any other industrialized nation on earth. This unfortunate reality has been aptly described as “the slow death of the home cooked meal.”
More women are working, and consequently, cooking less. According to the US Census, 70% of mothers with kids at home are in the workforce. Although men have recently been assuming more of the domestic responsibilities than in the past, including food shopping, guys certainly haven’t picked up the slack when it comes to preparing the meals. We seem to find the time when it comes to binge watching House of Cards, but don’t apparently have enough of it to put a simple dinner on the table. When families do eat at home, it’s often takeout food on the couch, in front of the TV, while watching cooking shows. That is actual food porn — watching someone else do it while you pleasure yourself.
We’re not eating so well, either:
- The The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than one-third of American kids eat fast food every day.
- A Stanford University study revealed that 20% of all American meals are eaten in the car.
- Americans consume 31% more packaged food than fresh food.
- Obesity rates have doubled in adults and tripled in children over the past 35 years, resulting in nearly 70% of Americans being either overweight or obese, and at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many forms of cancer.
You don’t need to be a scientist or surgeon to see a link between our eating patterns and our dietary health.
The nutritional benefits of regular family dinners should be obvious:
- Studies demonstrate that the ingredients we cook with will be healthier.
- The portions we serve can be controlled far better than the supersized meals we get outside.
- Kids eat more fruits and vegetables, giving them more vitamins and micronutrients and fewer fried foods and soft drinks.
- They are less likely to become obese.
Yet the clear benefits of home cooking go far beyond nutrition, alone.
Research has confirmed that dinnertime conversation leads to larger vocabularies for young children than even from reading aloud to them. Family dinners affect academic performance as well, predicting higher achievement levels than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art. Studies have linked regular family dinner to a reduction in smoking, drinking, eating disorders and problems in school.
They’ve even been shown to be associated with—get this—positive moods in adolescents. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them.
Enjoying home cooking around the table together is not going to solve every problem and cure every ill, but it will make a meaningful difference to the overall wellbeing of your family. Besides, meals made at home actually save money and, with a little advance planning, even save time. And since we guys are grocery shopping anyway, most supermarkets (and delivery services like Blue Apron) have made cooking easier for us by cutting, chopping, and prepping the ingredients already, leaving just the final assembly for us to do at home.
Dad is not the new mom. But this is not your father’s fatherhood, either. Men bear equal responsibility for today’s parenting. Redefining fatherhood through food means not relying exclusively on working mothers to make mealtime happen. It’s time for fathers to bring some testosterone from the grill into the kitchen and share in the nurturing and nutrition of our children, which science has proven beneficial for their brains, bodies, and behaviors.
What could be more important than that for the most important people in your life?
Robert Rosenthal is the author of Short Order Dad – One Guy’s Guide to Making Food Fun and Hassle-Free. (Skyhorse Publishing)