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Feeding the Family: The Unseen Responsibility of Moms with Young Children

Are you a mom of young children, often feeling overwhelmed by the workload of meal planning and cooking? Some days the challenge of nourishing your family, and yourself on top of that, may seem like an overwhelming job. You're not alone.

The weight of meal planning and cooking is an invisible burden that many mothers carry. It’s a relentless task that requires daily attention - and if you have young kids at home with you during the day, it can feel like an almost constant job.

Managing all the food tasks, paired with a lack of appreciation for this work, can leave you feeling drained and unseen.

Let’s explore and validate why meal planning and cooking are especially hard for mothers of young children, and offer some gentle ideas moving forward.

Division of responsibility between partners

First of all - let’s address the obvious - every home is different when it comes to the division of labour around food tasks. I’m writing this article for parents who identify as female in a heterosexual relationship - because statistically speaking, we have data that shows women are still doing more of the unpaid work in the home.

However, not all households are the same in terms of division of responsibility of care tasks like managing food in the home.

Historically speaking, traditional gender roles have often placed the responsibility for meal planning, cooking, and related food tasks primarily on women. These roles have deep historical roots and were reinforced by societal norms.

Over the past few decades, there has been a shift in gender roles within households. Many families have moved away from strictly adhering to traditional roles, with more men taking on active roles in meal preparation and household chores.

Despite progress in gender equality in society, the uneven division of labour continues to persist. Studies continue to show that women still tend to bear the brunt of food-related responsibilities. This includes not only meal preparation but also activities like grocery shopping, meal planning, cleaning up after meals, organizing the kitchen, and planning future meals.

This uneven distribution is often referred to as the "second shift," where women work both outside the home and then take on a disproportionate share of domestic tasks.

The unequal distribution of household and food-related tasks has an impact on and implications for women's well-being. It can contribute to feelings of stress, burnout, and time pressure, particularly when parenting multiple children and when combined with outside employment.

The Complexities of Food Tasks

Because food tasks are often unpaid, society tends to consider it a menial or simple task.

But meal planning and cooking are not simple chores! They are complex tasks that require a combination of skills that are often underestimated.

Executive Functioning

You’ve probably heard this term before. Executive functioning refers to the set of mental skills that help you get things done. It's like the "manager" in your brain that helps you plan, organize, focus, and complete tasks. It's what allows you to juggle multiple tasks, make decisions, and stay on track.

Meal planning and cooking demand a HIGH level of executive functioning—organizing, planning, prioritizing, and managing time effectively.

Think about what it takes to make a pot of spaghetti for dinner.

First you need to think of the idea taking into account what ingredients you have on hand, how much time you have and the preferences and nutritional needs of everyone in the home.

Then you need to gather the ingredients, make sure you have anything and do swaps for anything missing. Next is clearing space on the counter and ensuring you have the needed clean equipment to cook the meal.

You need to conceptualize and plan for the time to prepare the entire meal which includes boiling the water, cooking the pasta, browning meat, making the sauce, etc so everything is ready around the same time and when you want to serve the meal.

There are also decision making and problem solving skills needed for adapting as you go and dealing with issues like sauce being too thick or thin or pasta sticking to the pot.

Cooking when you have young children

What’s especially challenging as a parent of young kids, is that parents need to supervise and are constantly being interrupted by little ones, while simultaneously trying to do these complex tasks.

Add on top of that challenge, having an exhausted mind from parenting all day and chronic sleep disruptions makes cooking harder.

If a parent is neurodivergent (such as ADHD, autistic or both), is struggling with mental illness and/or has external stressors going on - the capacity to perform these high level tasks becomes even less.

Workload Management

Parenthood, especially during the early years, comes with an overwhelming workload. Diaper changes, feedings, playtime, and nap schedules are just the tip of the iceberg. Adding meal planning and cooking to the mix can feel like an additional mountain to climb.

With three meals and endless snack requests everyday, it sometimes feels like our whole day as parents can revolve around food and meal prep.

Society often downplays the effort and significance of meal planning and cooking for a mother and a family, framing it as a simple, routine task rather than acknowledging it as a substantial responsibility. This lack of recognition can lead to feelings of invisibility and unappreciation.

How to move forward

First let’s talk about mindset and then strategy.

It's important to recognize that your experiences are valid, and the difficulties you face in meal planning and cooking are real. The emotional toll it takes is real and can be significant.

See food tasks as care tasks instead of chores

This concept of care tasks is one that I’ve picked up from one of my favourite books “How to Keep House While Drowning” by KC Davis.

She describes "chores" as routine or mundane tasks that we associate with a sense of obligation. Chores can feel like tasks that are done out of duty or responsibility, without much emotional connection to the reason why we are doing them or the end result.

Example of a chore mindset: I am washing dishes, packing lunches, making dinner.

Food care tasks on the other hand, is infused with compassion, empathy, and intention to provide care and nourishment to yourself.

Seeing food tasks as care tasks shifts the understanding that cooking is not just about checking something off the list or simply about sustenance but a means of expressing love, connection, and care through nourishment.

Example of a care task mindset: by washing dishes I’m making clean dishes with which to eat and cook, by cooking I am able to nourish my body and my family, by making lunches I’m ensuring my child has food to eat during the day at school.

In essence, the difference lies in the mindset and motivation behind the tasks. "Food care tasks" encompass a holistic approach to food that goes beyond mere chore-like obligations and embraces the compassionate act of nourishing oneself and others with care, intention, and love.

Strategy to make food care tasks easier

There are two ways to look at making food care tasks easier in your life - simplify and support.

Simplify means looking for ways to make food tasks less complicated. This can mean - eating the same thing for breakfast everyday, cooking once and eating the same thing for lunch all week, rotating between the same 5-10 recipes for dinner every night.

Simplifying can mean you purchase more pre-packaged or pre-prepped foods to strategically lighten up your workload.

Getting more support may mean actively working towards a more equitable division of labour around food tasks in your home. It may mean setting up a food swap with some other families once a week. It may mean hiring someone to help do some food prep for you.

And it may also mean finding a support person to guide and walk you through the process of finding solutions that work for your family, simplify meal planning and finding a rhythm of nourishment that works for you.



Your Dietitian Doula

P.S. - As a registered dietitian and postpartum doula, I specialize in providing support to mothers like you. My individual nutrition coaching services are tailored to your unique needs, offering guidance and strategies to navigate meal planning and cooking with less stress.

Two steps.

  1. Respond to this email with any questions you have.

  2. Book a time to meet with me HERE

You are not alone in this journey.


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