Father’s Day Special: Could Dads Help Cook Up a Solution for Childhood Obesity?

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Happy Father’s Day to all the dads.  Hope you enjoy your special day — you deserve it!  And while we’re thinking about all the contributions dads make to the family, there’s one  more to consider. What if dads could be a solution to our country’s childhood obesity problem?  What if dads spent more time in the kitchen to help restore the family meal — which many experts believe holds the key to battling childhood obesity.

That’s the focus of my article for MSNBC.com entitled Dad, it’s your turn to cook dinner.  Hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think.  Maybe even leave a comment on MSNBC.com if you’re so inspired. Some of the comments have been critical.  Ouch. Some people feel like I’m busting the chops of fathers or calling them lazy.  No way.  That’s not the intent at all.


I was inspired by an article written by Michael Pollan The Food Movement, Rising in the New York Review of Books.  Pollan eloquently discusses the rise of food activism in this country — including the locavore movement, critiques of “industrial food,” school lunch reform, and efforts to regulate food ingredients and marketing, especially to kids.  Indeed, there are a lot of movements going on.  Yet with all this intense focus on food, we’re cooking at home less than ever.

In his article, Pollan makes a strong case that the American family meal is threatened — partly because women are busy with full-time jobs outside the home, but also because “foodwork” is under appreciated in today’s world.  The full benefits to the family and society overall are not being recognized, he wrote.

9780252076732One of the books that Pollan features in his article is The Taste for Civilization:  Food, Politics and Civil Society by Janet A. Flammang, a political science professor at Santa Clara University.

In a challenge to second-wave feminists who urged women to get out of the kitchen, Flammang suggests that by denigrating “foodwork” — everything involved in putting meals on the family table — we have unthinkingly wrecked one of the nurseries of democracy: the family meal.

In her book, Flammang addresses the gendered responsibilities for foodwork and argues that we need to change our current views of kitchen duties.

If foodwork continues to be regarded as invisible, unacknowledged and female-only, then the quality of all our lives suffers.

Flammang suggests that:

American women are having second thoughts about having left the kitchen. However, the answer is not for them to simply to return to it, at least not alone, but rather for everyone — men, women and children — to go back to the kitchen, as in preindustrial days, and for the workplace to lessen its time demands on people.

Certainly, it appears that the weight and health of our children are at stake.  Studies have repeatedly shown that kids who eat at home with their families have better quality diets and healthier weights.  Meals prepared and eaten at home are almost always more nutritious than restaurant fare — typically more balanced and lower in calories, fat and sodium.  Harvard researchers found that the more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity.

But it seems that no one is cooking at home?

A new published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that moms who work full-time are more likely to have overweight or obese kids.  The U.K. researchers believe fewer family meals may be one of the contributing factors.

So it seems like a lot of blame is being put on working moms.  That’s what I don’t like.  I don’t want moms to feel guilty.  And I want both parents to appreciate the value of the family meal.  The solution is for everyone to pitch in — moms, dads and even children.

I happen to know a lot of guys who take charge of cooking duties at home.  But overall in this country, most of the day-to-day cooking falls to the mom.  Research by The NPD Group indicates that only 13% of meals eaten at home are prepared by men (although younger men are more likely to pick up a slotted spoon and cozy up to the stove compared to older men).

Maybe more dads will get into cooking with the sudden appearance of cooking magazines, TV shows, websites and blogs devoted to the male cook.  I just hope they inspire men to do more every day cooking, not just the weekend ritual of grilling steak or flipping burgers.

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  • I really like the idea of recruiting men. As someone who likes to cook (and talks food/cooking all day with my nutrition clients), I find it difficult at home. My husband loves good food but I could never see him cooking and have a hard enough getting menu ideas or suggestions out of him. I think women need to express what they need “could you make kids lunches 2 days a week” or “it would help a lot if you email me some things you’d like to eat this week” rather than feeling as though we have to do it all (and sometimes failing). I am writing this from my kitchen, my husband is taking a nap, hmn I better start “expressing” myself now.

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  • Cooking and eating together as a family is a great idea because it fosters communication and teaches children the importance of nutrition. However, I hate Pollan’s love for moral panic mongering. “The rise of fast food and the collapse of everyday cooking…has damaged family life and community by undermining the institution of the shared meal.” By all objective measures, the family is a lot stronger than it was half a century ago before fast food. Parents spend more hours per day playing with their children (partly because the modern convenience of food preparation gives them more time to do so). Education is up; crime, tobacco/drug use, and teen pregnancy are down. And even though every newspaper and magazine screams “Obesity Epidemic!” the average life expectancy in the US has climbed 15 years since 1950.

    So yes, cooking at home is good. It’s fun and keeps you healthy. But no, the family is not crumbling at the foundations because Mom orders from Pizza Hut on Friday nights.

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    ~ Robyn
    p.s. as always, it’s great to tweet !

  • Great idea to get Dad’s in the kitchen! Mom’s love their breaks! 🙂

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  • Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  • I also love the idea of recruiting men in the kitchen. There is still such a stigma about men in the kitchen, which needs to be changed. Given that both parents usually work out of the home, its no surprise that kids are now obese, after a long day of work cooking a nutritious meal is often last on a working mom or dads agenda.

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