When it comes to #MomGuilt, I'm a good candidate for poster child:
It's not that I have greater reason to feel guilty than any other mother; I just happen to reside on the extreme end of second-guessing--from how much time I spend on my children vs. myself vs. my work to the quality of that time.
I even feel guilty about feeling guilty!
But there's one thing I don't feel guilty about: cooking. Or more precisely: not cooking.
Here's what meals look like in my house: store-bought rotisserie chicken with home-boiled pasta; mashed potatoes (picked up at the deli counter) with frozen meatballs and carrot sticks; raw vegetables and microwave mac' and cheese; scrambled eggs and rice mixed with frozen veggies; "kitchen sink" salad with everything from shredded cheese to deli turkey to frozen edamame thrown into the mix.
I call it Assembling (a phrase I borrowed from a friend with a similar strategy). My rule is that it should rarely take more than 10 minutes to make a meal.
Yet these days, it seems that in order to be a "good parent," you should to present your family with three-meals-worth of farm-to-table food that you enjoyed every (tiresome--no, joyful!) moment of preparing yourself. Hand-roast the chicken and slow-cook the stew. It would be best if you slaughtered the hen and grew the greens yourself. At the very least, cook meals from scratch from start to finish. And be sure to post the final product to Pinterest.
For the Cooking Intimidated, there's an abundance of coping strategies: Plan a week's worth of recipes ahead of time. Spend Sunday cooking and freeze for the week ahead. Throw everything in the slow cooker and sleep on it. Get the kids in on the action!
Yet the truth, for me, is that I just don't really like cooking. And neither do my husband or my five-year-old son. My other son is 20-months-old, so keeping him out of the kitchen when the oven's on is a task all its own.
Last night's dinner (cheese, scrambled eggs, and frozen mixed veggies)... and dessert (frozen pops from Ruby Rocket's)! The boys look happy because they like it. I look happy because I barely had to cook it.
This doesn't mean that I feed my children loads of junk and processed foods. I don't. What I do is give them simply made fresh food supplemented with healthy prepared food options that I can feel good about.
We eat a lot of raw or roasted veggies (done in the toaster oven!), though I'll cop to using frozen ones in a pinch. Packaged and frozen food brands like Amy's, Applegate, Alexia and Organic Valley are lifesavers.
One of my clients is my go-to for dessert and snacks. The company's veggie and fruit pops come in flavors like Rock-It Red (made from carrots, strawberries, sweet potatoes, and beets) and Meteorite Mango (done with mango, pineapple, butternut squash, and sweet potato). They have no added sugars and are loaded with both vitamins and probiotics. Plus, the frozen pops taste incredible according to both the grown-ups and the kids in my household. It's simply a matter of fact that these folks are more successful at stashing vegetables in unexpected places (dessert!) than I am when I try to sneak spinach puree into brownie batter.
My local grocery store makes an all-natural rotisserie chicken my kids go crazy for. And I'm just not going to slave over mashed potatoes when the ones at the deli counter boast that perfect lump-to-creamy ratio; use the same ingredients as the ones I would make at home; and, it turns out, don't cost much more per serving than homemade ones, either.
Yes, I still encourage my children to try new and different things. But I'm more likely to do it by sharing my dish with them at a restaurant than I am by slaving for hours over something they'll ultimately refuse to eat. (You could also say I should tell them to eat what they're served or go to bed hungry, but I choose to pick my battles over other things.)
It's not that I never cook; I just do it infrequently enough to maintain its novelty. I admire my friends who scour the cooking blogs to come up with fresh new menus every week. Invite us over anytime! We'll bring the frozen pops! Just please don't regale me with tales of making your own applesauce.
The truth is that when it comes to your family, there are a lot of trade-offs. The time you spend cooking--not to mention cleaning--is time away from other things. In my family, we will always choose an extra hour at the park, more time reading books, a walk with the dog, an intense game of floor hockey with the five-year-old, or making block towers with the baby before we'll choose cooking. And even I refuse to feel guilty about that.