Do you know how much time you spend in the kitchen every day?
I thought I did until I actually tracked how long I spent cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping over the course of a week.
The results were shocking.
Oh no sir, I clocked in at an average of 194 minutes per day. That’s 2.5 times the norm! And I wasn’t even doing any food blog work (quality food photography takes a lot of time) – just your normal, run of the mill Monday to Friday work, school, and extracurriculars schedule.
Keep scrolling for a detailed breakdown…
Granted I prefer to shop at Costco despite the nearest one being 40 minutes away and make a special weekly trip to a neighboring town just for raw milk but even without those things I’d STILL be way over the average.
Do I spend an exceptional amount of time in the kitchen, do Americans really spend so little time on food prep, or are people just terrible at estimating time?
I think it’s a combination of all three.
I do spend a lot of time in the kitchen (though it doesn’t feel like it because I love it) and Americans are notorious for their fast food habits. As for the American Time Use Survey results – like so many nutrition science studies, the survey relies on respondents’ self-reported answers rather than actual observed data and we all know people aren’t the most reliable judges of how long tasks take.
If I’d had been given the survey I probably would have said I spend about 1.5 hours on food prep per day – and I would have been way off as you can see from the detailed breakdown.
For some extra context both Mr. Carol the Cook and I work from home and we homeschool. A few days a week our kids have activities after school but I’m still able to grocery shop and cook whenever it’s most convenient. (Honestly one of the best things about homeschooling is that it has opened up our schedule tremendously – no more rushing to catch the bus or spending hours on homework with tired kids every night.) There was a time when both of us worked in an office and cooking was a huge stressor but those days are long gone.
8:40 am – Put on tea kettle
8:44 am – Made green smoothie, 2 oatmeals, and tea
9:29 am – Made coffee and banana peanut butter toast and put away clean dishes
Total Time: 27 minutes
11:50 am – Preheated oven
12:06 pm – Made croutons and chef salad and washed dishes
1:09 pm – Made spaghetti meat sauce and put away clean dishes
Total Time: 57 minutes
5:54 pm – Cooked pasta, reheated meat sauce, washed dishes, ran dishwasher, and set the table
8:42 pm – Put away food and cleaned the kitchen
Total Time: 51 minutes
Total Time for the Day: 135 minutes
7:36 am – Put on tea kettle, made green smoothie and tea
8:27 am – Put on tea kettle
8:37 am – Made 2 oatmeals
8:57 am – Washed dishes
9:27 am – Put on tea kettle
9:37 am – Made coffee and oatmeal
Total Time: 35 minutes
12:36 pm – Reheated pasta and meat sauce
1:52 pm – Washed dishes and ran dishwasher
Total Time: 17 minutes
4:30 pm – Roasted chicken drumsticks, Brussels sprouts, and spaghetti squash
6:50 pm – Baked oatmeal cookies
7:05 pm – Served dinner
9:21 pm – Washed dishes and cleaned kitchen
Total Time: 78 minutes
Total Time for the Day: 130 minutes
8:45 am – Made green smoothie, 2 bowls of cereal, tea, and coffee
Total Time: 22 minutes
12:30 pm – Sautéd chicken sausages, sliced apples, and toasted bread
1:28 pm – Washed dishes
Total Time: 34 minutes
6:00 pm – Grocery shopped (Local)
6:45 pm – Made chef salad and sliced baguette
8:36 pm – Washed dishes and ran dishwasher
Total Time: 85 minutes
Total Time for the Day: 141 minutes
8:45 am – Made green smoothie, tea, and 2 cereals
9:40 am – Put on tea kettle
9:49 am – Made coffee and oatmeal
Total Time: 15 minutes
12:36 – Made chef salad
1:26 pm – Put away clean dishes and loaded dishwasher
2:40 pm – Grocery shopped (Costco)
Total Time: 195 minutes
6:00 pm – Heated Costco street tacos
7:08 pm – Washed dishes
7:16 pm – Heated more tacos for a guest
7:45 pm – Baked oatmeal cookies
9:55 pm – Salted steaks, washed dirty dishes, ran dishwasher, and cleaned kitchen
Total Time: 60 minutes
Total Time for the Day: 270 minutes
8:15 am – Made coffee and blueberry scones
10:00 am – Made green smoothie and tea
11:10 am – Put away clean dishes and ran dishwasher
Total Time: 52 minutes
11:40 am – Took out meat for chili
11:44 am – Washed dishes and made bread dough
12:05 pm – Washed dishes, made chili, and baked cornbread
12:55 pm – Washed dishes
2:45 pm – Washed dishes
Total Time: 101 minutes
4:30 pm – Shaped bread dough and grocery shopped (local milk pick-up)
5:30 pm – Preheated oven, put on tea kettle, and took out steaks
5:40 pm – Washed dishes, boiled water in double steamer, and baked bread and sweet potatoes
6:30 pm – Broiled steaks, steamed broccoli, and made butter
9:30 pm – Washed dishes, put away food, and cleaned kitchen
Total Time: 141 minutes
Total Time for the Day: 294 minutes
Grand Total Time: 16 hours and 10 minutes
Every parent knows feeding a family from scratch is a serious time commitment. Actually logging the time spent on food prep takes that knowledge to a whole new level. The cooking, the cleaning, the shopping – the minutes add up fast!
It’s no wonder parents feel so tired at the end of the day and that mothers cite cleanup as the hardest part about cooking.
But you know what?
Putting in the time to cook wholesome food for your family is 100% worth it.
Why It’s Important to Put in the Time to Cook
Cooking from scratch promotes healthier eating habits. Researchers from the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior found that children whose parents spend more time cooking make better food choices. That’s not surprising if we assume parents who cook pass on important food knowledge to their kids.
Another study found that greater food preparation time among young adults is positively associated with higher diet quality. When young adults cook for themselves (which is presumably more likely if they have strong parental examples to emulate) they’re less likely to eat fast food and more likely to meet the daily recommended servings for fruits, vegetables, fats, and whole grains.
Beyond physical health, cooking for your family also promotes mental well being. Turns out preparing food for others can be incredibly rewarding (with a handful of caveats). If you have the time, I highly recommend reading this study from Frontiers in Psychology that analyzes cooking using the PERMA Model. The PERMA model is a scientific theory for happiness that stands for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. Anyone who loves to cook knows it’s good for the soul but it’s cool to see science back up that intuitive knowledge.
And of course there’s always the added benefit that efficient home cooking is easier on the budget than buying prepared food or eating out all the time.
Are You Spending Enough Time Cooking?
Time is precious.
So is your family’s physical, mental, and financial wellbeing.
How do you know if you’re spending enough time preparing wholesome food for the people you love?
Each family’s situation is unique but there are signs to watch out for to find an answer to that question. If your monthly food budget is under control, the members of your family are generally healthy, and you don’t mind working in the kitchen then you’re likely spending the right amount of time on food prep.
For those of you whole like more concrete numbers here’s a study from the National Library of Medicine that states “spending less than 1 hour/day on food preparation [is] associated with significantly more money spent on food away from home and more frequent use of fast food restaurants.” In other words, if you’re spending at least an hour per day on feeding your family then you’re probably doing just fine.
I guess there’s no need to spend the 194 minutes per day that I do on food prep but I do because I want to. Our family food budget is rock solid, our kitchen is almost always tidy, and the deliciously creamy raw milk we buy is worth every extra minute I spend driving to the store.
I love cooking so more time in the kitchen = happier me.
What about you? Do you love cooking? How much time do you spend each day on food prep for your family? I challenge you to track your time and compare it to how much time you think you spend on food prep. Bonus points if you track your time for a whole week and calculate the average. Be sure to share your findings in the comments below!
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published on the 15th of every month.