In the not so distant past it was the sole responsibility of women to cook, clean and care for children while their husbands went off to work. Fast forward 100 years and the dynamics of the American family have changed significantly. Not only are spouses expected to equally share responsibility for household chores, but as of 2021 both spouses work in 62.3% of American married-couple families with children. While these changes may be good for society as a whole, they introduce new challenges for couples when it comes to putting food on the table.
Cooking is a process that extends far beyond the confines of the kitchen. Healthy, budget conscious meals require planning, shopping, ingredient preparation, the actual cooking, and cleaning. There’s a delicate rhythm to these activities and trying to synchronize them across working parents’ busy schedules makes it virtually impossible to stay on beat. Throw in busy school aged children and you have the perfect recipe for stress overload.
Instead of sharing all things food in the name of fairness, working spouses would do well to designate just one person as “the cook.” This individual would be responsible for all of the food planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning.
Don’t be too fast to jump to conclusions.
Rather than overly burden the “cooking” spouse, the whole family stands to benefit from this kind of arrangement in a variety of ways.
Fewer Opportunities for Spousal Conflicts
When both parents work and share food prep responsibilities, there’s near constant negotiation about who will do what and when. Even if these exchanges are amicable (which they’re often not), they’re exhausting.
Grocery store out of chicken? You have to text or call your spouse and see what they want to replace it with since he or she was the one planning on cooking chicken tonight.
Busy with extra work and don’t have time to wash a million dishes? Either you request that your spouse change the dinner plan to a one pot dish or you risk his or her ire at “never doing your fair share” of the work.
Husbands, how many times have you been accused of “never getting the right thing” at the grocery store?
Just think, if you were in charge of everything food related you could plan grocery shopping and meals according to what best suits your schedule. Know you’ll be working late on Thursday? Make a double batch of dinner on Wednesday so you can eat leftovers and don’t have to cook the following day. Know little Johnny has soccer on Saturday and a piano recital on Sunday? Move your weekly grocery shopping up a day to Friday to make things easier.
It’s amazing how much coordination goes into putting a meal on the table. When that coordination needs to happen across two work schedules it becomes a massive headache. By designating just one spouse to be in charge of all the “food stuff,” it greatly reduces the mental gymnastics required to get dinner on the table.
Better Tasting Food & More Time for Other Things
Thanks to ample practice opportunities the cooking spouse’s skill and efficiency in the kitchen stands to improve dramatically.
(Lack of practice is one of the leading reasons why it takes people longer to prepare a dish than what a recipe calls for.)
Know what better cooking skills and efficiency result in?
Better tasting food, more varied meals, and more time for other activities.
Instead of taking 2 spouses 45 minutes to make dinner, 1 highly skilled spouse can have everything ready and in the oven in just 30 minutes. Both spouses end up with more free time to do other things and thanks to practice, the cooking spouse has perfected making the recipe. This may be a vague example but you get the point – specialization leads to a certain economy of scale.
And I mean really, who doesn’t want to eat delicious home-cooked food?
Improved Mental & Physical Health
As I’ve said before in numerous posts like this one about the virtues of baking bread, the repetitive actions and sensory stimulation of cooking can be likened to a form of mindful meditation. And the connection between diet, physical health, and mental health has been well documented for years now.
Here’s an interesting article from Qanta magazine published just last month about the impact of gut microbiomes on the social behaviors of zebra fish. Know what influences gut microbiomes?
And that doesn’t just apply to fish.
Good food in, good mood (and body) out.
When one spouse takes on the role of cook and masters producing nutritious meals for the family, everyone wins. The cooking spouse has a creative outlet and potential source of personal accomplishment (it’s a big deal making the perfect roast chicken or loaf of bread!) and everyone’s diet stands to improve.
This Arrangement Is Smart, Not Sexist
Contrary to popular belief, assigning just one spouse to all of the food related chores is not sexist. There is no rule that says women must be the ones to take on the role of cook; men are just as capable in the kitchen. Deciding which spouse takes on the food responsibilities could be as simple as identifying which spouse gets home earlier from work or which spouse enjoys cooking more.
As reasonable, family oriented adults it’s important to tune out the naysayers who A) discourage women from taking on traditional roles in the home simply because they’re “sexist” and B) disparage men for doing “women’s work.”
Do what’s best for you and your family, everyone else and social stereotypes be damned.
But There Is One Caveat…
Mr. Carol the Cook and I have tried just about every permutation of work, household chore, and child rearing arrangements you can think of. In the end we’ve found that me taking on all of the cooking responsibilities (even when both us work full-time) works best for our family.
With one catch.
Mr. Carol the Cook has single-handedly shouldered a lot of other responsibilities. Like keeping the floors clean (since I really dislike vacuuming and mopping for whatever reason), all vehicle maintenance, and most of the yard work.
You see, the key to ensuring the cooking arrangement is fair is for the non-cooking spouse to take their newly found time to manage other responsibilities, not just veg out on the couch watching TV. A family is a team and each member must pull his or her own weight.
In the words of John C. Maxwell, teamwork makes the dream work.
Cooking takes a lot of time and effort and can quickly becomes relentless if you let it. It’s a lot of work to provide three meals a day, 365 days a year.
Cooking spouses can do a lot on their own to prevent meal prep burn out by taking advantage of batch cooking and freezer meals or planning the occasional dinner out. And of course the non-cooking spouse can always prepare a meal now and again as a special treat. After all it is beneficial for kids to see that both of their parents can cook (and learn that everyone should have at least basic cooking skills) even if one parent does most of the cooking.
All family members would also do well to show their appreciation for how much work goes into putting food on the table day in and day out. You want your cook to keep making delicious, healthy food, don’t you? Remember to clearly express your gratitude and say thank you!
In a time when poor diets are responsible for more deaths worldwide than smoking, it’s more critical than ever to prioritize healthy cooking – a task made easier for working families when just one parent is in charge of the food.
How about you and your family, have you tried this cooking arrangement? What works best for you? Other readers and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
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published on the 15th of every month.
Aletha OglesbyDecember 2, 2022 2:45 pm
For several reasons, this has happened in our household without being planned. I am more knowledgeable about healthy food choices and better at shopping economically. I do almost all of the real cooking, although my husband may do a salad or sandwich, and simple breakfasts. He then handles clean up. This usually works well but sometimes can be difficult to manage if I get home late and then have to start meal prep, or if I am ill, which fortunately doesn’t happen often. Your article gives good reasons to consider formalizing such an arrangement rather than letting it fall to chance.