Have you ever calculated how much time you spend on average in your kitchen, cooking meals? I did the other day, when I heard on the radio that because of the economic crisis, Italians are spending more time in the kitchen: 56 minutes a day during the week, 69 minutes during the weekend. The research quoted was also gender specific: 11 days a year (264 hours) in the kitchen for Italian women, and 8 days (192 hours) for Italian men. The first question that came to mind was: where are those Italian men? I want to meet them! No, forget it, that isn't the first question that came to mind at all.
The first question that came to mind, actually, was: how long do I spend cooking every day? Now, the answer is a bit muddled, because "cooking" for me is the time I spend working in the kitchen, and includes not only the food prep but also cleaning up and dish-washing after meals, which quite often take almost as long as the cooking itself (don't get me going on the fact that our kitchen doesn't include that wonderfully useful appliance, the dishwasher!). Because I'm quite sure that the study in question assumed dishwashers and not the cooks washed the dishes, I've only considered the time I spend preparing meals as "cooking".
On average, I spend at least 1 hour and 40 minutes a day cooking meals for my family on weekdays (about 10 minutes for breakfast, 30 minutes for lunch and 1 hour for dinner), and considerably more during the weekend, when my main baking, food preserving, and fancier cooking take place: let's say 6 hours each weekend. That works out to be 13 hours a week, or 676 hours - 28.16 days - a year: over twice as many days as the average Italian woman. In other words, I spend just under a month a year in the kitchen cooking for my family!
If a month a year spent cooking seems a lot, I reckon that until just a short time ago, I, like many mothers of small children, used to spend even longer, cooking multiple meals: one for the carnivore, one for the vegetarian, one for the child in their picky eating stage (our kids are all reformed picky eaters), a mushy meal for the baby, one for the parents who just liked to eat grown-up hot-spicy foods once in awhile. And let's not forget those long, interminable winter days spent puttering around the kitchen with bored little ones! When my children were smaller, I probably spent two months a year cooking.
So I guess I feel lucky: now that my children are older, I've moved up in the culinary world, make one meal for the whole family, and spend only 28.16 days a year cooking!
I cook from scratch, and I could no doubt cut back the kitchen time a lot if I didn't. However, a part of my role as a parent is teaching my children the value of food, by which I don't mean abstract notions about nutrition (or not only that, anyway), as if meals were collections of chemicals like fuel for a car. We aren't cars that need to be tanked up with nutrients to keep going. Instead, I want my kids to see food as nourishment and pleasure for a healthy body and soul: the taste, the variety, the color, the texture, the freshness, the look and the fragrance of the ingredients that we bring in from the garden or choose at the store, and that we make into meals which we enjoy together. They needn't be gourmet meals, but must be made with quality ingredients. By showing my children how a meal is an affair for all the senses, to be enjoyed with family and friends, I hope to teach them not to be satisfied in future with the plastic look, the obscure origin and the flat, fake taste of unhealthy ready-made foods that cost a few euros, and take a few minutes to heat up. Some of the best things in life, including our nourishment, take time and require work. In my case, 676 hours' worth in the kitchen each year.