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I Stopped Cooking Dinner for My Family — And I'm a Much Better Mother Now

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I can come up with lots of reasons to make a home-cooked meal. It’s fun to look for new recipes. It’s generally more healthy than eating out. And it gives you a huge sense of accomplishment when your Instagram-worthy picture actually tastes good, too. Believe me, I get it — and I actually like cooking… sometimes.

Trying to ‘Do It All’ — All the Time

I’ve been a working mom since my kids were infants, and like all moms, I’ve tried to do it all. I used to wake up at 4:30 in the morning in order to have time for a workout, a chance to pump (when I had babies), and a few minutes to get myself ready for the day. Then after work, I would rush home and attempt to get a well-balanced dinner on the table at a reasonable time. All the while, I had complete mom guilt because I never felt like I got enough time with my kids.

Then, one day I had an epiphany: What if I didn’t try to do it all?

Easier said than done, right? I considered the idea for a moment and thought about my options. Some things I wasn’t willing to give up — like outdoor and play time with my kids. Some things I wanted to give up but knew I shouldn’t — like those morning workouts. And some things I thought about giving up but was reluctant to do so — like making dinner.

As a mom and even a woman, I felt very much like a homemade dinner was part of my duty and responsibility. It was nothing that my husband or my kids put on me; instead, it was expectations that I put on myself. My mom always cooked dinner even though she worked full-time as a teacher. And my grandmother’s dinners were epic, especially on Sunday nights.

I’m not the only one who has ever felt this way. I loved the 2014 research article called "The Joy of Cooking?" in which three sociologists challenged the traditional role that many women have taken on as the family cook. “Cooking is at times joyful, but it is also filled with time pressures, trade-offs designed to save money, and the burden of pleasing others,” the study authors wrote. Ultimately, they concluded that the standard of moms providing a meal for their families each night has become “tasty illusion” that places the burden of a healthy home-cooked meal on women. “Let’s move this conversation out of the kitchen, and brainstorm more creative solutions for sharing the work of feeding families,” they wrote.

I definitely related to this. And when faced with the stress of trying to do it all, all the time, I decided that something had to give. So I started to say goodbye to perfect dinners.

A New Kind of Dinner Plan

It’s not like I completely swore off cooking. I would still come across recipes on Pinterest that I saved (mostly for the weekends). But my perfect meals started to fade into the sunset, replaced by dinner like sandwiches, hot dogs and carrot sticks, and mac and cheese with strawberries. These meals would take me about 10 minutes to whip together versus the 45 minutes to an hour that I was spending before.

It was a serious game-changer for me. It might not seem like much — 45 minutes or so — but it was heavenly. Not only did my family like these totally simple, kid-friendly meals, but I got back valuable time with my little ones. Now, we had time for things like a bike ride or a card game.

As my kids have grown older, my cooking habits have continued to shift and evolve. My son actually really likes cooking. He sometimes makes dinner on his own, or we will plan and make together, even having our own Chopped-style challenges (from the TV show). However, cooking an amazing dinner still falls to the lower part of my priority list. And yes, that means eating out more, too.

Of course, I do still have the occasional mom guilt about this. But as I’m shooting some hoops with my kids and then whipping up tacos in 15 minutes, the guilt starts to fade.

Stacy Tornio is the author of The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book and the mom of two adventurous kids. Together, they like planning vacations centered around the national parks.

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