Time I spend feeding my family

I'm all done.

For the past 2 1/2 days I've been either cooking or shopping for:

  1. our anniversary meal and
  2. the full lunch I provided today for the 20 or so Lots to Garden student gardeners.

The menu for the 20 hungry student gardeners? Baked beans, tabouleh, and Maine apple blueberry crisp.

Seems appropriate I finally publish the amount of time I spend in the kitchen.


I had promised proposed a series of posts about my vegan kitchen oh... a couple months ago. But summer has been busy and really who wants to talk about all the time they spend in the kitchen.

I do intend to follow through on the series, if in a somewhat disorganized fashion - I still haven't explained why we eat mostly vegan. But hang tight, it's coming... someday. And when it's all done I'll organize it all and make a link somewhere for easy reference. But I suppose first I have to write it.

We are what we eat

This is my basic food philosophy that drives everything I do (and don't do) in the kitchen.

This is why we choose to eat mostly plants and why we take time and care to prepare them. I've mentioned it before and I'll say it again our diet is the foundation of our health. Certainly we need rest, lots of physical activity, and a bunch of other stuff for health but nothing affects us quite so much on the most basic level as the food we eat.

Think about it - your very cells are created and maintained by the food you eat. You literally are what you eat. When I think about it this way I don't feel so bad about the amount of time I spend planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning in the kitchen.

bright lights cut up: Bright Lights swiss chard awaiting supper prep.

Food is social and a touchstone in our lives

Shared meals are the anchor of our day. Meals are not something we grab on the go, pick up and eat while driving (yuck) or scarf down on our way.

Meals are cornerstone daily rituals we plan for, anticipate, cook, sit down and eat and of course clean up after three times each day. This makes me think it would be nice to live in a place where they only eat 2 meals a day - does such a place exist?

Sometimes we prepare meals ahead to be eaten on the trail, or at camp and rarely on our way there. Almost once a week someone is joining us for one of these simple occasions called a meal. I've come to accept, some days grudgingly, that something so central to our lives will take time. Just as all important things do.

Let's get real

We live in a culture where time spent on food preparation is not valued. Not when "food" can come from a box or drive-thru window. This isn't to say we never eat speedy food, we do.

A little truth telling: a while ago KFC had a free meal offer to try their new "healthy" grilled chicken breast. Apparently Oprah was in on it and everything. Well, a free meal for a family of 5 is a hard offer to pass up - Damien read about it somewhere I can blame him.

We put aside our knowledge of how those chickens were treated and God know what else goes on behind closed KFC doors and went out for supper. The meal was so-so but the waste was absolutely abominable. Our whole family felt terrible that we generated more packaging waste in one meal than we do all week at home. It was disgusting.

The other truth is that although I love homemaking, especially writing about homemaking (hee, hee), and I LOVE eating I don't always relish my role as cook and menu planner. Most of it is so mundane, an endless chore to be repeated over and over, and I think if I didn't have NPR in the background I might go bonkers some days. But on better days I see my time in the kitchen as caring for my family, which in reality is the case. Loving people in a way so intimate and ancient.

The numbers

Want to know how much time it is exactly that I spend preparing food for my family?

Yes? Read on. No? Come back tomorrow.

Daily schedule:

  • 7:30-8:30 Preparing breakfast and starting lunch, eating breakfast with the kids. Damien helps make lunch.
  • 9:00-10:00 Cleaning up the kitchen while supervising kid chores and other randomness. Washing our soy milk maker takes an inordinate amount of time, unfortunately.
  • 12:00-1:00 Back in the kitchen to finish lunch prep and eat with the kids. Reading while we eat is a lovely mid-day break.
  • 1:00-1:30 Clean up the kitchen. Cook beans and otherwise prepare things ahead for supper.
  • 4:30-5:30 Cooking in the kitchen. Supper this time. Usually very simple with basic, unprocessed ingredients. Once a week Celine cooks supper with Damien or sometimes myself.
  • 6:00-6:30ish Supper with the family. The kids seem to eat quick and run but Damien and I talk, dream, plan.
  • 6:30-7:30 Cleaning up the kitchen - again. It used to be that Damien would do most of the dishes and he still does his share but the kids need him more these days so I'm back in there washing up. If the farm share is large I'll also preserve food during this time.
  • 8:00 Kitchen closed! Except on soap making nights.

Notes: Kids do all the table & dishwasher chores. One day each weekend we hike and have our "rest day". We eat breakfast at home but that's it. Lunch is packed the night before and we eat supper out at our favorite Thai restaurant.

Weekly tasks:

  • Mondays - 1 hour or so to plan the menu and prepare the grocery list. Used to be much longer when we first changed out diets.
  • Tuesday - 1 hour to shop at the produce market (cheaper than grocery store, very important when 40% of our budget is spent on fresh plant foods) and health food store.
  • Wednesday - 15 minutes at the local farmer's market. (June-Oct)
  • Thursday - 1-1.5 hrs visit and pick up at our farm. Would take only .5 hour but kiddos need to play - part of why we have a farm share. (June-Oct)

Once a month:

  • 1-2 hrs - prepare our family's buying club order.
  • 3-5 hrs - co-ordinate, receive, sort and financially manage our buying club.
  • 1 hr - trip to the grocery store for toilet paper and a few other items.


Do you know what all those numbers work out to? On a good week, with no special days, I work a whopping 8 hours a day either planning, buying or preparing food in the kitchen!

Unbelievable. I had always thought cooking was my full-time job, now I have the numbers to prove it!

When I was talking to Damien about this last night, who truly values what I do in this regard for our family, he had a couple things to say:

  1. I basically run a restaurant, but one where the customers participate and don't get to choose what they eat!
  2. It's time to get the kids more involved in the kitchen. (Light bulb moment.) As of this morning they are each assigned to one meal a day to help with prep work. I would love to work myself down to a part-time job.
  3. There's a very good reason every time someone comes in our front door they say "it smells so good in here".

Last thoughts

In many parts of the world mothers would give all they have to trade places with me. A woman; cherished and protected by her husband, provided with a home, garden and finances with which to buy healthy and abundant food for her family. When I think of all the mothers who literally spend their entire lives trying to feed their children I'm ashamed for my complaining.

I'm grateful for my kitchen, the farms and stores, my pantry, garden and fridge. And my family and friends to cook for and share it all with.

I know I'm not the only mama who spends her life in the kitchen so if anyone has any advice on how I can reduce my time in the kitchen and still eat very healthy I'd love to hear it. Keep in mind fresh vegetables don't lend themselves well to batch cooking and it's difficult to repeat menus with seasonal farm-based meals. But if you've got tips I'd love to hear them!

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  • Kika

    Kika on Aug. 13, 2009, 6:15 a.m.

    Wow! Eight hours sure is a lot of time. I guess I don't really know how much time I spend each day or week. Does it work with your eating lifestyle to cook up batches of brown basmati, say, and beans, soups, etc. on one day to carry you over for some meals throughout the week? Then you could simply add fresh fruit and veg to round out these meals. Do you not eat buns, muffins, etc? (Are there vegan varieties of such food items?) I wonder because for us, muffins and smoothies for instance, make quick lunches. Does your family snack or simply stick to the three meals/day? It is an important and interesting topic so I'm glad you're talking about it.


    • renee

      renee on Aug. 13, 2009, 1:25 p.m.

      A note about breads and baked "goods". A couple years ago we discovered that Damien was gluten intolerant. Shortly after we noticed our younger two children developed troubles digesting gluten (persistent belly aches). For at least a year or so after that our home was essentially gluten-free. Although I tried making g-free varieties of our favorites they just didn't work because not only was I removing wheat but since we don't regularly eat eggs or oils making substitutions was very difficult. I gave up and instead we embraced a more whole-foods, less processed diet.

      The younger two can now eat moderate amounts of gluten again and so the kids and I do snack on breads and eat it once a week for lunch. I wrote about that here. But bread is not a "standby" for our family. Bread, even whole grain, is nutritionally deficient compared to it's whole food counterparts - beans, vegetables, fruits & nuts. True, it has fiber and I guess a smattering of vitamins and minerals but it is not a nutrient-rich food in terms of antioxidants and such, all those super immune boosting properties found in the whole foods I listed above.

      Many people, myself included, find that eating breads kind of drags them down - for lack of a better description. A lunch of vegetables and beans does not leave me feeling sluggish but energized.

      For these reasons and because my husband is truly gluten intolerant we choose to not make breads and baked items a staple in our diet. Which pretty much eliminates the possibility of easy sandwiches, muffins, quick breads and such from our menu.

      However, in exchange we are never sick. Of course having said that we'll come down with something but really we are very healthy. Summer sickness is unheard of in our home and February brings a few sniffles and maybe a day on the couch for the kiddos if they catch a bug. That's it. No doctors visits (except for well visit once every couple years), no drugs, no over-the-counter meds (we do have a few pain relievers for emergency purposes), no allergies. In addition our kids are FULL of healthy energy and vigor.

      Yes, it's a lot of work to not rely on easy breads and such but I think it's well worth it when I look at the health of my family.

      This is a really long answer to your quick breads question. Almost a post in itself.

      Oh and we do snack but it's easy - grab a fruit, raw nuts or make some popcorn and the kids can do it themselves.


      • renee

        renee on Aug. 13, 2009, 6:09 p.m.

        I guess I should clarify, I don't think bread and baked goods in and of themselves are bad (croissants, danishes and donuts aside) but I generally think of them as "filler foods". I think it's not the absence of breads that contributes to my kid's health but all the stuff they eat instead that has built up their immune system.

        Given the choice my kids would eat bread every meal instead of the vegetables, grains, beans etc. I'm trying to feed them. But then they'd fill up on essentially refined flours (whole wheat included) and miss out on all the nutrition found in whole foods. I just think bread lacks nutritional punch.

        Ok, I think I'm done now. I have nothing against bread - I love the stuff! But I view it as a dietary treat not a nutritional staple.


  • Jenn

    Jenn on Aug. 13, 2009, 5:17 p.m.

    hmmm...we eat breads but my kids are never sick. we have gone literally years without stepping foot in a hospital. my hannah is 9 and has never been to a doctor. EVER! :0) even born at home.

    i don't think breads are the only reason people get sick. but i do understand how cutting something out and then trying to add it back in would make you feel sluggish and run-down. i am like that with sugar. when i don't have it, i feel better...when i start eating it again, i feel like...crap...for lack of a better word! :0)

    interesting thoughts. we eat healthy but easier than you. i know those who are vegan, raw, macrobiotic, etc. are going to spend inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen. it's got it's cons...but so many pros. it's up to the individual. i like our diet for the most part. we could be a little more strict...but i do the best i can as we are low-income.


    • renee

      renee on Aug. 13, 2009, 6:14 p.m.

      That's awesome Jenn. Healthy kids are such a blessing. Hey, did I already know you were a homebirth mama? If so, I forgot. I am too, though it's been a few years!

      I absolutely agree! Breads do not make people sick. I added a comment to my above comment explaining my position on this. It's easy to fill up on bread and miss out on nutritional whole foods. We did that for years when we first went mostly vegan.

      Funny we are none of those things - wholly vegan, raw or macrobiotic but we eat a lot of those types of things. Our diet is plant based, largely local in the summer but has wiggle room for special occasions, meals out, and food we eat in other people's homes. It's a lifestyle choice not a religion.

      Thanks for commenting!


  • Jamie

    Jamie on Aug. 13, 2009, 5:22 p.m.

    This is a great post Renee - full of great info. My husband is the chef at our house and even without kids there are times when he feels burdened by the amount of time he spends in the kitchen. Making "real" food takes real time. But, like you said, it's worth it. The benefits we enjoy in our health, energy and pocket books is totally worth it.

    About the Oprah/KFC thing - I was so disappointed when that came out. A lot of people listen to Oprah as gospel and it just made me crazy thinking about how many people rushed to KFC for a good deal only to become part of...a really bad deal.

    Thanks for taking the time to share all this!

    Jamie's last blog post... Shoultz Family | Portraits at the Beach


    • renee

      renee on Aug. 13, 2009, 6:20 p.m.

      Re: KFC - At least you avoided the temptation - good for you! We took the bait and were left rather disgusted.

      I agree. Real food takes a lot of time but as Damien was telling me if we tried to eat this healthy but didn't cook most of it ourselves (I don't know, ate packaged whole foods type meals??) we'd be broke.

      I think it's important for people to talk realistically about the time real, good, healthy food takes. After all for human's whole history and for most of the planet's population families are simply trying to secure their next meal and save enough for winter. What makes us think it should be so easy, cheap and fast??


  • Karen

    Karen on Aug. 13, 2009, 9:10 p.m.

    Good job, Renee. Well-written account of the way it is at your house; I love the food and the social interaction that makes for wholesome mealtimes. Yummy and nutritious menus take planning, intention and effort. It's worth it.


  • Kika

    Kika on Aug. 13, 2009, 9:31 p.m.

    I wanted to comment further: I was vegan for seven years, then ovo-lacto vegetarian for nine years after that, at which point I began to have serious fish cravings (shortly after the birth of my third child). I finally gave in and within two weeks of eating fish felt that I woke up from a fog; had energy again and began to lose my pregnancy weight. Although I don't crave fish to the same degree any longer I continue to eat it once or twice a week b/c I believe in listening to my body - as you do about not over-consuming bread-type products. We keep our meals simple but quite healthy. I am continually trying to become more informed and work at tweaking our health habits (but if I go too "radical" my husband rebels) and always love to hear what works for other people (including lots of detail as you've included with this post). I don't, however, think it is easy to sort out the "perfect" solution. Unfortunately, although we don't get sick much with flus, colds, etc., I have tons of allergies (tree nuts, many fruits/veg, environmental allergies). Please continue to share freely on this topic.


    • renee

      renee on Aug. 13, 2009, 9:38 p.m.

      Thank you Kika for your added comments. I find it helpful knowing how other people manage their kitchens and dietary needs.


  • Naomi

    Naomi on Aug. 14, 2009, 12:57 a.m.

    Although I enjoy cooking to some degree, the mundane part of planning meals, and then setting aside time in the evening to make them when my kids are at their fusiest is not easy (I guess they call that life? lol). I most enjoy preparing foods when I am not in a rush and not overly hungry, so that I can take my time. Buying our food is a family event, we all enjoy going grocery shopping together. I look forward to the day when we are living on our property in Hebron and able to grow our vegetables. Having one vehicles makes it very difficult to spend anytime at a garden away from home. Glen and I became vegan as soon as we married and stayed that way for a couple years. We were fairly strict, and I used a lot of seventh day adventist recipes that I got from a friend. We were very happy with our diet and certainly felt healthier. We enjoyed experimenting with foods and it became a new lifestyle for us. When I got pregnant with Nemo, I started craving cheese, and although I never bought any, I could not help but eat a lot of it when it became available, at baby showers for example. I know my body was telling me I needed something extra, but I tried to find what I needed in plant-based sources. After Nemo was born, we started loosening up a little, eating meat when going out to eat, etc. And when I got pregnant with Daphney I said, I'm going to eat cheese. And I did, and I had a healthy pregnancy, more so than I did with Nemo (I'm not attributing that directly to the cheese of course, but I'm sure it played it's part). We do eat some lean meat and cheese a couple times a week on average, so I would no longer consider ourselves "vegan", although we certainly do not have an average American diet. I would really like to go back to being vegan after baby #3 is born, because it has been a great experience for us. Nemo has had the flu once, which lasted only a day or so, I have only had the flu once in several years which is very abnormal for me (I used to get it every December), colds are less frequent, we feel better overall, and recover faster from any bugs we are fighting. Whether a person is vegan, eats raw-foods, or is into any other kind of whole-foods diet, paying attention to what you eat really is a good way to take care of your family. Great post as usual Renee!


  • Spring

    Spring on Aug. 14, 2009, 1:27 a.m.

    I recently assigned each of my kids to one meal per day of prep as well! Right now, my littlest is my helper for dinner, as I can truly leave breakfast/lunch in the hands of the older 2, whereas at dinner they'd need my help (it's our biggest family meal of the day). As they get more independent, I will shift someone older to dinner, and hopefully get a night or two each week! :)

    Now I am inspired to calculate my time in the kitchen... allergy-free baking really adds to my time, but we are not ready to do without it yet! :)


    • renee

      renee on Aug. 14, 2009, 1:48 a.m.

      Warning you might not want to figure out the numbers, it is kind of depressing (until I start to remember all I am thankful for!)

      Tonight Celine totally made dinner on her own, except Damien chopped her onions. She made thai fried rice, loaded with a bunch of veggies, her choice of recipe. It took her longer than it would of me and the kitchen was a disaster after but it was so worth it. Damien actually planned for our weekend hike and I balanced the checkbook and such while she cooked! yipee! We're getting somewhere.


      • Naomi

        Naomi on Aug. 15, 2009, 12:08 a.m.

        Sounds like a good learning experience for both of you! Celine will be glad she started learning how to cook while she was young.


        • renee

          renee on Aug. 16, 2009, 12:36 p.m.

          My plan is work myself out of this full time job in the next 4 years or so. At that point, when Brienne is Celine's age. We can all be sharing the job of food preparation.


  • Ellen

    Ellen on Aug. 15, 2009, 2:26 a.m.

    Wow, that is amazing! I've never tallied up the time I spend in the kitchen, (and I'm 99% sure that it's less than what you spend, we avoid most convenience foods but we aren't vegan) but it does feel like you just finish one meal to start the next!

    I have no tips or advice, but you have much to teach me. I can't wait to hear more about your vegan kitchen.

    (and the forced-participation-restaurant-with-no-choices thing cracks me up!)

    Ellen's last blog post... The Community Boat?


  • Rodney and Cindy

    Rodney and Cindy on Aug. 15, 2009, 10:37 p.m.

    Hi Renee, I very much enjoyed this post. It reminds me of when my family was young and I spent hours in the kitchen.

    Now I spend even more time prepping meals for 12 or more people every day.

    When we have teams here, I'm up at 5ish to start breakfast and like you, cook all day for the numbers..... and it's not always healthy. It's so very difficult to prepare food for others who come from other parts of the country. Many have complained that we don't serve enough meat, even though during the week we have chalupas with hamburger, sometimes chili with hamburger, chicken two times and fish once. It's amazes me how I can serve whole wheat bread to one group and no one will eat it, but another group will...... So, we are looking forward to being alone again and eating better. I was making two different meals at first, but by the end of group season, it comes down to one.

    Just to let you know you are an inspiration to me and I'm sure to many others! God Bless you for sharing!


    • renee

      renee on Aug. 16, 2009, 12:42 p.m.

      Dear Cindy, I think we'll just turn that around on it's head. YOU are an inspiration to ME. In fact when I get discouraged thinking of all the cooking I do to care for our family I often think of you "if Cindy can do this for a bunch of people, I can do this for 5". I appreciate all YOU do to encourage others and point the way to a different kind of living. A life of service & love, whether in the kitchen or community. Love you!


  • Kimberly

    Kimberly on Sept. 25, 2009, 2:28 a.m.

    No advice here, but I'm glad to see I'm not the only one in the kitchen a huge portion of the day. I've not clocked it, but it's a big number most days. We do eat meat, but I cook nearly everything from scratch including our breads, crackers, tortillas, granolas, etc. From a hot breakfast in the morning to a full dinner, there is almost always something cooking, cooling, prepping, cleaning in here.

    I also preserve the summer bounty by canning, freezing and drying things, so this time of year I practically live in the kitchen! I picked up my first box of apples from the organic farm up the road today. Both dehydrators are running and I'll spend most of tomorrow making apple sauce, apple butters and chutneys.

    It is a lot of work and a lot of dishes, but I do see it as serving my family and friends. And it usually smells pretty good around her. :) I think it is an investment in our health and happiness. We are rarely in ill health and we've switched to almost all organic and a lot more local since we changed our lives almost two years ago. Our health is better and our food bills lower.

    Alas, I need to get off the computer and clean up from dinner.

    Kimberly's last blog post... Sunshine & Apples


  • Kimberly

    Kimberly on Sept. 25, 2009, 2:28 a.m.

    No advice here, but I'm glad to see I'm not the only one in the kitchen a huge portion of the day. I've not clocked it, but it's a big number most days. We do eat meat, but I cook nearly everything from scratch including our breads, crackers, tortillas, granolas, etc. From a hot breakfast in the morning to a full dinner, there is almost always something cooking, cooling, prepping, cleaning in here.

    I also preserve the summer bounty by canning, freezing and drying things, so this time of year I practically live in the kitchen! I picked up my first box of apples from the organic farm up the road today. Both dehydrators are running and I'll spend most of tomorrow making apple sauce, apple butters and chutneys.

    It is a lot of work and a lot of dishes, but I do see it as serving my family and friends. And it usually smells pretty good around her. :) I think it is an investment in our health and happiness. We are rarely in ill health and we've switched to almost all organic and a lot more local since we changed our lives almost two years ago. Our health is better and our food bills lower.

    Alas, I need to get off the computer and clean up from dinner.

    Kimberly's last blog post... Sunshine & Apples


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  • Mélanie

    Mélanie on Aug. 23, 2012, 4:09 p.m.

    This is similar to my situation, except my kids are younger so they eat less but also help less (for now). Your last thought made me cry :) It's so important to put htings in perspective and remember to be grateful. Thank you for this post.


  • Rachel Himes

    Rachel Himes on Sept. 17, 2012, 1:53 p.m.

    I have 3 young children. I feel like I spend half of my day in the kitchen and that includes some packaged foods and noodles (just whole grain and natural kinds). Starting to embrace the whole foods/Eat To Live idea and noticing that I'm spending MORE time preparing food. Just as you said, fresh foods and veggies don't lend well to batch cooking. I am exploring crockpot options for soups, beans and what not. It's getting them off of cheese that I'm nervous about. How old were your kids when you started this lifestyle?


    • renee

      renee on Sept. 17, 2012, 2:57 p.m.

      Toddlers & preschoolers. Cheese is highly addictive. I refer you to this article on why. There's a reason people don't want to give up cheese, it's a drug. Having said that, I love cheese. Which is one reason I don't keep it in the house. Check out these links:

      Cheese Facts & Alternatives

      You Might As Well Face it... You're Addicted To Cheese

      Breaking the Food Seduction

      Dr. Jenna Taylor: Addiction to Cheese is Real Thanks to Casomorphins


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