Serving pre-prepared food doesn't mean you're a bad parent
November 29th, 2011
10:00 AM ET
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In this age of farm-to-table dinner adoration and making one's own butter and baking powder from scratch, I rise up in defense of the drive-thru, the TV dinner and the semi and fully-prepared dinners from the grocery store. That includes bags o' salad, minced garlic and frozen pizza.

As I return to work full-time at, I take this stand for my mother, a single parent just a few decades ago. Not known for her cooking, she sometimes drove me through McDonald's after soccer practice or theater class and served me a Swanson's TV dinner once week.

Many more parents today are the children of parents who did not know how to cook, so I applaud any supermarket effort that makes it easier to eat at home - even if it involves opening a chicken pasta combo package and pre-cut veggies.

It's obviously a popular way to feed our families. Nearly half of all Americans use partially prepared foods or ready-to-cook foods to feed their families, according to a 2010 Mintel survey.

"Fast food and TV dinners did serve their purpose on days when we had one thing after the other or there was no time to go to the grocery store or nobody had clean underwear so laundry had to be done," says my mom. "With the time saved, we could still talk about what happened with a kid harassing you at school, without my worrying about burning something-which I did anyhow, every so often."

My mother's own mother had refused to teach her to cook, thinking that it would trap my mother in the home rather than in the world of work where my grandmother thought she should live. That was a radical notion in the 1940s and 1950s, that my mother should have an outside adult life.

Once she married and had me, my mother figured out how to cook a few things - we often had nice arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) with platanos (fried plantains). But it has never been easy for her the way it has for mothers who have cooked from scratch since they were little girls. My mother cooked big batches of stew or other dishes on the weekends and punted on soccer practice and theater class nights.

That's why I cringe when the foodies make speeches in condescending tones about how parents should try harder and commit more time for cooking at home. In some two-parent families with enough money and time and help, please do turn off the electronic devices and try to cook with your children - and eat with them too.

Even those of us with more time or money than our struggling parents have a hard time cooking because we didn't learn how to do it well as children. Dinner prep looks easy in the hands of a pro, can take as little as 20 minutes and tastes delicious. When I'm in charge, it’s harder and takes longer and could involve a TV bribe to keep my kid from amused while I try to cook.

Shortcuts allow me to hear about my kid's day at pre-school, talk about the bugs she saw and the snacks she ate, make sure she's learning to share and not getting into any fights.

"It’s not only cooking time, but shopping for food," says my mom. "For those of us for whom cooking is not an occupation or a hobby, it takes longer. An expert cook could probably make things faster but they have to concentrate."

I'm going to continue to buy the Amy's Pizza and packaged veggies to make sure dinner can be ready in 15 minutes if need be. When I cook, I try to go easy on myself, choosing recipes that are hard to screw up and can be turned into something else the next day. I rarely cook something I know the kid won't eat. And I do try to learn to cook simple good dishes that even parents like me can handle.

Here is a fantastic roast chicken recipe that is hard to screw up. (I often place the bird on the wrong side, and it doesn't matter).

Easy Roast Chicken

Whole fresh chicken (Murray's or Bell and Evans or something tasty)
Meyer lemon (or regular lemon if Meyers aren't available)
Fresh parsley, rinsed and chopped up
Adobo spice if available (I use Goya brand), or salt and pepper
Heat your oven to 400°F. Spread olive oil on the bottom of a roasting pan with a rack.
Get a whole chicken and remove the giblets. Cut a lemon in half and stuff 1/2 lemon and fresh parsley (if you have it) into the cavity. I like to use a Meyer lemon when they're available.

Use Adobo or salt and pepper it inside and outside like crazy.
Put the chicken onto the roasting pan rack and cook it for about 20 minutes per pound, maybe a little bit less depending on factors I don't understand. Just make sure the internal temperature of the bird reaches 165°F at the thickest part, without the thermometer touching the bone.

(Usually recipes say put the breasts up but I did it with breasts down and it worked - breasts cook faster so it worked it have them downside). 

Add vegetables around the chicken in the last 30-45 minutes of cooking to make it a one-pot meal. I usually add cut carrots, quartered onions and cut up roasting potatoes. They soak up the olive oil and chicken juices.

Got a quick-fix meal you serve to your kids? Share it in the comments below.

Previously - Feeding the beast – Adventures in homemade baby food

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Filed under: Bite • Cooking • Culture • Make • Parenting • Recipes

soundoff (230 Responses)
  1. Questionable Viewer

    I think your article is really great, and highlights the modern trend in most families. While I do not agree with your opinion on the subject, I do understand it, and can respect that. I did want to point out though that you might benefit from having a proofreader or an editor going over your work. It has a lot of grammar issues that can make some thoughts, and sentences, go off track.

    October 19, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  2. Lolita

    In today's world, many households have two working parents (if not single parents). Making everything from scratch every day is not very realistic. But I think it is important to find ways to put a meal together quickly while fulfilling dietary needs. I love the suggestion of adding fresh veggies to a frozen meal. A rotisserie chicken in most grocery stores will run you about $7. Pair that with some frozen veggies that you can steam in the bag and some whole wheat rolls, and you have yourself a pretty decent meal at a decent price. If that isn't an option, invest in a slow cooker. Not so good for chicken if you need to be able to let the meal cook for an entire workday, but awesome for beef. I have made some amazing beef stew and shoulder roasts while at work!

    December 8, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
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    December 8, 2011 at 7:16 am |
  4. Cody Bardach

    I love u guys. Keep up the good work.

    December 6, 2011 at 5:10 am |
  5. Seth

    My mom was also a very busy person and, not being very inclined to cook, she rarely brought herself to spend more than 20 minutes in the kitchen. She is one of those people who learned to cook very early on and often tells me about how every Saturday they'd make pies or cookies. She never did become all that proficient at the prep work but what she did do was stockpile very efficient recipes where she could throw everything together, toss it in the oven and go do something else. Did she ever burn food? Sure. But we still ate fresh food six days a week on a pretty tight budget.

    While I love cooking and enjoy making all kinds of things from scratch from her I learned how to cook in a pinch. I inherited a lot of her recipes and though I usually take my time with cooking if I'm in a hurry I can still throw together a lasagna, roasted chicken, spanish rice and dozens of other meals together in 20 minutes and move on to something else. And for the record, my wife doesn't cook and doesn't care to. The kitchen is mine and we're quite happy with that!

    December 5, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  6. Lee

    If you can't tell – I am being sarcastic. As a working mom, I am fortunate to be able to have a flexible schedule and have at least 5 dinners a week made from "scratch" – not even pre-cut/frozen veggies. But we need to be tolerant that many parents do the best they can, and these pre-prepared foods sometimes are the best alternative.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:00 am |
  7. Lee

    I don't care how busy you are: are people actually buying foods from grocery stores? What lazy parents! You should be ashamed of yourselves! You should be growing your own vegetables, slaughtering your own chickens and milling your own flour to bake breads. What are you teaching your kids? That foods come from grocery stores?

    December 5, 2011 at 4:52 am |
  8. jules

    Of course there are times when people need to grab something quick because they are just not home to cook. I do it too. But most meals at our house are cooked from fresh whole ingredients. The one thing that is not addressed here is the significant savings of making food from scratch. I encourage my kids to help me, and sit at the counter in the kitchen. We talk about their day, they learn to cook, and get great nutrition. We have fun, and from time to time a carrot, olive or nut creeps it's way into their mouth. My 5 year old actually wants to be a chef when he grows up. One of the games they all play together is Iron Chef.

    December 2, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  9. randy mandy

    Just boil the piss out of some chicken. Make some quick soups, salads and sandwiches.

    December 1, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  10. Jorge

    LAZY AND SLOW. That's what I see a lot of today. When I was a teenager in Puerto Rico my mother worked the register at a department store, ran a boarding house and cooked rice and beans or pasta with baked chicken, fried fish, pork or onion cube steak with side salads or veggie escoveich on a daily basis for 20 years. She was fit and happy and would ask me to drive her to have fun on weekends, she also taught me the value of learning to cook, take care of myself and be organized, not to waste time and to be handy with many things, she would ask the neighborhood shop owners (mecanics, carpenters, masons) to take me in during the summer and to let me learn. Today I come home from work, fix my own cars, do my own home repairs, do my own laundry and cook full meals for my family in about 20 minutes when my wife is sick or too busy with school work, and I'm a man.

    December 1, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • Master of Jorge

      "...and I'm a man."

      Meh, sort of ...

      December 1, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • bluebalz

      yawn, so what...

      December 1, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  11. Snoflinga

    Ohhhh boy. There's a lot of anxious parents that need to snark about how other people eat dinner just so they can feel better about themselves tonight, aren't there!

    My goodness. Listen up. I'll give you what you all so obviously need: You're doing FINE. You're a great parent! Your kids are going to turn out healthy and happy, and you are doing the best job humanly possible. Keep it up!

    I'm gonna go have a bowl of Lucky Charms for dinner now that the kids are in bed.

    November 30, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • LikeIT

      mmmm lucky charms. When I was little, I would eat out the marshmallows, mother must be a HORRIBLE parent for letting me have Lucky Charms...I better go tell her how dissapointed I am with my upbringing.

      December 1, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  12. Dee

    I don't care how busy you are, there is no excuse for serving kids processed foods. Good nutrition is the building block of health. Processed foods will set your kids up with a lifetime of health problems. It's that simple. Simple, healthy meals can be made in bulk and are not expensive. For example, I have a great rice cooker, and cook 10 cups of brown rice at one time that can then be refrigerated and served over a week. Make a little effort, and your kids will be healthier in the future.

    November 30, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  13. SixDegrees

    Since this is turning into a household hints blog, here's one: the freezer is your friend. Right now, turkey is dirt cheap. Buy a couple frozen ones and chuck 'em in the freezer. Cook one and you'll have lunch and dinner for four for several days, and you can make a couple gallons of soup from the carcass that can also be frozen. The time involved is almost entirely oven and unattended stovetop time – actual kitchen work for the above is probably about half an hour, tops. If you like, you can also portion out the bird and freeze individual servings so you don't have to eat turkey day in and day out for days on end.

    November 30, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  14. Jones

    You know why food is a problem in our society? Because we can't slow the F#@& down! You work endlessly to pay for a new car, a huge television, school loans for a degree that won't get you anywhere, some designer clothes you don't need, and other piles of crap stacked so high you don't have room for it in your 3800 sq ft suburbian house you can't afford. Do you realize how stupid everyone is for not having enough time to feed themselves!? Wake up people!

    November 30, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Heather

      I agree. People need to slow down and realize what's important. Small homes are actually nice and cozy...and quicker to clean!

      November 30, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Jorge

      Amen, that's why I'm going to sell out and move back to the Caribbean, where I spent my youth, as soon as my last kid clears college. Being a born in NYC and doing the rat race thing in the Southeast has been enough for me; I want to spend my last days where folks mean it when they smile and say 'buenos dias' , and where you can pick seafood, eggs and the ingredients for the day's salad off the back of a stake truck that drives by your house every day...

      December 1, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  15. SixDegrees

    OK, 'pre-prepared' is redundant, but I guess we're stuck with it. I don't see any problem with it; I like to cook, but not everyone does, and fwiw i did lots of me own 'pre-preparation' leading up to Thanksgiving so I only had to spend maybe an hour in the kitchen on the day itself. Even though a lot of this prep was done well in advance – probably longer than the prepared food you buy in supermarkets has been sitting around – it was just fine, and no one would be able to tell the difference if it had been slavishly prepped just moments before cooking.

    November 30, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  16. Danielle

    My phone has no spell check, my high school is the poorest in the state, and I have at least four seperate learning disabilities, so I apologize for anything I say incorrectly in my posts. But my spelling and grammar isn't the point, can't you at least see that much? The attitudes I'm seeing in you all reflect in your kids, my peers. You're brutally critical of things that can be talked out rationally and calmly, and I can't remember the last time I saw a polite post. I'm truly worried for the future.

    November 30, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Jorge

      Danielle, that's why this country is doing as poorly as it is, this is the talk-the-talk generation, infested with critical, snipy, functionally unfit people who are bound to electronic gadgets, can't do a week's worth of productive manual labor to save their lives and become brittle and hostile when they are bested in the workplace by little brown people who can hardly speak a word of English. Don't take it personally, it's not you.

      December 1, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  17. Mark

    The reason America is and will always stay fat. When did parents stop sacrificing for their children? Convienience food is anything but. It might make your stomach full but it causes more doctors visits because of all the chemicals and salts and other things your body can't process make you sick. Most will not understand this but try having some kids with food allergies and being forced to feed them real food. You have a choice, watch your kid suffer or do the right thing. The media should stop trying to sell these types of ideas and move more towards promoting real food. Unfortunatley real food does not bring in the big money. Stay fat and sick America.

    November 30, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Bob's Your Uncle

      Hey look! The harelip dog is back!


      November 30, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Eliza Clark

      Some of us DO sacrifice for our kids by working umpteen hours a week just to keep a roof over their heads, the heating bills paid, and some clothes on their backs. We sacrifice by using our non-working time to help them with schoolwork, play with them, take them to activities, listen to them unload at the end of the day, or guide them in learning how to help with household chores (including cooking). We sacrifice our sleep to get even the most basic housework done after they're in bed, so that they have clean clothes to wear to school and a reasonable living space to come home to. We get up early in order to get ourselves ready for work before having to get them up and make breakfast, get them loaded up and off to school. Sometimes, in all of that, a home-cooked meal made of fresh ingredients falls by the wayside. We do the best we can with some home cooked meals and the healthiest prepared stuff we can find in the minimal amount of time we have to go grocery shopping. What we need are HEALTHY prepared meals without all the additives, preservatives, etc. I would give my right arm for some good choices along those lines ... or for a cook to make us great meals 4-5 nights a week!!

      November 30, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
      • Shannon

        If you have to sacrifice that much, maybe you shouldn't be having children. We definitely have enough people on this planet as is.

        February 4, 2014 at 2:54 pm |
    • jason

      ooo, someone just saw Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. Bravo.

      November 30, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • PDXmum

      So Mark, who is cooking up and feeding your child all these from-scratch or your stay-at-home wife? Feeding your kid something pre-prepared a couple nights a week isn't going to kill them, and it doesn't automatically translate into shoving a Happy Meal at them either. There are a great many healthy packaged foods at the supermarket with reduced sodium, whole grains, low fat and no corn syrup. I know how to read and I use that valuable skill on nutritional labels, as anyone could.

      November 30, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
      • Kristin

        You're wrong if you think any of the pre-packaged foods at a grocery store are a "healthy" option. The ingredients contained within are typically related to corn and soy, the two industrialized foods our government subsidizes farmers to grow and they are not grown in bio-dynamic soils which means they lack the level of nutrients found in organic fruits and vegetables grown in nutrient rich soils. True, no one is going to die from eating a processed food here and there. The problem is that we all rely on them more than here or there. If you walk around a super-market almost 90% of everything in it can be sourced back to corn and soy beans. It's the monoculture that's the problem. We are not eating enough diverse, whole foods. Read the Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. It will seriously rearrange how you think about food in this country.

        November 30, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
      • Seth

        Kristin, you need to learn about how much hype the organic food movement has been spewing. There is zero evidence that eating organic foods improves health. Please watch Penn and Teller's Bull$hit show on organic foods– they debunk the nonsense.

        December 1, 2011 at 3:17 am |
  18. Lucy

    Reading nutritional labels, carefully looking over ingredient lists, etc, and basing your menus on that information seems like the most important part of all of this. There are plenty of homemade recipes full of ingredients that "can kill you," and there are plenty of minimally-processed or even fully-prepared meals that are wholesome, balanced, low in sodium, preservative free, etc. Rather than trying to decide who's right and who's wrong, let's all just spend some time considering the actual nutritional content of the food we eat. I also think it's important to take from the original article the idea that people are doing the best they can. We are all doing the best we can to raise healthy, happy, well-rounded kids and it is the big picture that matters. There are a million ways to put all the pieces together, and there is no point in trying to crap on other people for sport. For those of you who ARE good, quick home cooks who happen to be criticizing the author, perhaps you could post a recipe or two of your own so that others can benefit? That might be a bit more helpful.

    November 30, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  19. LikeIT

    I feed my children dry toast and water for dinner. Am I a bad parent?

    November 30, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Richard

      Not likely what had they eaten the rest of the day? The term bad parent shouldn't partain to the way parents feed their kids. Unless they are starving which doesn't happen much in america these days or it shouldn't.

      November 30, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
      • themuffinlady

        Richard, please acknowledge that 1 in every 5 kids in this country currently go to bed hungry–hence your comment was way out of line.
        Also, sure Pre-prepared food is easy, yet homemade food is NOT difficult at all, even novice cooks can learn to cook for their families while making memories of time together in the kitchen and fragrant flavors to last for a lifetime.
        Prime example is this recipe from the cookbook: LOVE MORE FEED LESS (less prepackaged and previously prepared):

        Oodles Of Noodles and Zuckles (zucchini pasta)
        Serve 6-8
        Preheat oven to 350° F

        2 tablespoons combined butter and canola or olive oil butter spread
        3 medium-large zucchinis
        3 cups of your favorite homemade or bottled sauce Tomato Sauce (pg…)
        1-2 teaspoons of minced garlic (if using canned sauces)
        6-8 ounces thinly sliced or grated Provolone and/or Mozzarella Cheese
        2 tablespoons Parmesan and/or Romano Cheese
        12-ounces package Rotini or Penne pasta,

        1. Spread the canola based spread all over the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch pan.
        2. Slice the zucchini into 1/4 inch slices and layer all over the pan. Pour the sauce over the
        zucchini, and then very gently mix the garlic only into the sauce. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
        3. Prepare the pasta, according to the package directions.
        4. Remove the pan from the oven and cover the entire top with the cheese. Return the pan to the oven and continue baking until the cheese has melted and begins to bubble, about 5-10 minutes.
        5. Serve over the warm pasta.

        December 1, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • pockaleelee

      Better than toast and dry water!

      November 30, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
      • LikeIT


        December 1, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Dee

      Better than fast food.

      November 30, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
  20. Richard

    Ok I was going to read some of the responses to this but you all like to write today. Anyways pre-prepared foods are not a problem, McDonalds, and other fast food places are not a problem. Americans want to blame our fatness on someone else. I am not going to lie I go out and eat fast food alot and thats because it is 'fast' food. I am 22yrs old and I can cook pretty darn well I think, healthy meals or not, I am from Tennessee we like to eat in the south especially on the hilltops of VA, NC, KY, and TN. I know how to eat healthy sure but alot of the time I just want to fix something that is fatty because it tastes good. It is better to know that moderation is key, most of the time I will try not to eat as much as I can but sometimes its just too hard. Its so good. But anyways I will jump off of my soapbox now. Any comments, or questions?

    November 30, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Eliza Clark

      Hooray, Richard! You are a voice of reason! First, personal responsibility for what we do, and how we eat. Second, moderation is key in all things. If I rely on prepackaged meals, I try to do it in moderation and cook when I can. When we go to "town" (60 miles away) we do the drive-through both for the speed and convenience in a full day of errands and because it's a treat. Third, we need to teach our children TOLERANCE for other ways of doing things and for other opinions, FLEXIBILITY in the way we live, and MODERATION in all things. Amen!

      November 30, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  21. Courtney

    JEEZ. There are some SNOBBY people on this forum. My husband and I have two kids, and we both are enrolled in college full time and my husband also works a full time job on top of that. Depending on the hours of my classes, I can plan meals for my family, but there is NO way in hell I would point my finger at these so called bad parents for making one night a little less hectic than usual for popping in a pizza or hopping through the drive through. You people should be ashamed of yourselves for all the nitpicky behavior. You know what a bad parent is? The woman who drowned all 5 of her kids in a bathtub, or the one who drove her car off the side of a bridge into a river or better yet, the mom who microwaved her newborn. How about the parents that duct taped their 3 year old, videotaped it, and then laughed when they yanked it off her skin. How about that 19 year old dad who shook his child to death? Seriously. You have NO idea what a bad parent is. No, I don't go to McDonald's on a daily basis, I use it as a treat for my children, but don't bash parents who can't live in your Normal Rockwell nightmare you call a life.

    November 30, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Richard

      Courtney I agree with you 100%. People are snobby. And college is hectic, it makes you do things you sure aren't proud of, food wise that is. Anything that can make life easier I go for, so the pizza in the oven, good thing for many college students. Or anyother frozen thing that is quick to make, if people just pay attention to what they are eating in them they can be worked into a diet that isn't really that bad for you. Everything in a diet works together. People you don't get fat from eating any particular food, it the entire diet that must be assessed.

      November 30, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Jorge

      No excuse, popping stripped chicken breasts and bag veggies (frozen) with mushroom sauce and bacon bits in the oven takes as long as a pizza, and is ten times as good for you and your family (more protein, more vitamins, more minerals, more flavor) and since when does it take that much time to eat strawberries with sugar-free whipped frosting or pineapple? Face it, you just have bad eating habits.

      December 1, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  22. sue

    Honestly – we had 5 kids in 10 years. I made dinner every. single. night.
    My kids were amazed when they left home and found out that soup is sold in cans.
    I made tons of hearty soups to fill them up – but I put up the soups the night before, after the kids were in bad.
    Then at dinner time – presto! instant supper.

    November 30, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • mouse

      ...and you were a stay at home mom, correct?

      November 30, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
      • sherie

        What makes u think that a stay-at-home-mom has it easy? Taking care of five kids is HUGE even for a full time care giver.Los of moms are at home because they CHOSE to do so and not because they weren't smart enough to get a job.Having a baby leads to changing one's priorities.Now on to the main issue in question- Pre packaged meals once or twice a night is no crime-believe me stay-at-home-moms do it too.

        November 30, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
      • pockaleelee

        I'm a single father (full-time) of a ten year old son. We cook every day, 2 or 3 meals and eat 'out' for a treat. The reason? We make time for this because we value it.

        November 30, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Just Here

      You obviously are fortunate enough to not have the sole burden of supporting your family. When I was able to stay at home, I also cooked. Now I am a single mom, who also cares for a sickly parent. I dont always have time or energy to cook. I try to do make-ahead meals on the weekends, but even then, my weekends are full of chores and errands I didnt have time for during the week.

      November 30, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  23. AndSoItIs

    Anyone serving their kids anything but a purely holistic, vegan diet is both criminally negligent and a lousy parent.

    November 30, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • mouse

      anyone serving only vegan, holistic, organic meals to their family must be extremely wealthy

      November 30, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Just Here

      So, what you are saying, is that anyone who lives any other way than your way, is a criminal? Are you willing to come to my house while I am hard at work, or caring for my ailing parent, or helping my kid with homework, and not only prepare, but pay for the more expensive foods you speak of? We all do the best we can with what we have, but people who are as opinionated and rigid as you are really have no idea what it is to struggle. Let those who are without sin cast the first stone.

      November 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Shawn

      Gotta love the delusional vegans!

      November 30, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
      • rachel

        not all vegans are delusional. I'm a vegan, but I respect others views just as I expect them to respect mine.

        November 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  24. Eliza Clark

    Boy.... lots of judgement out there. And lots of people missing the point of the article. Some of us not only don't have much time (like those of us who are full-time working single moms), and would prefer to spend it interacting with our children rather than pushing them away so we can get a home-cooked meal on the table in the half-hour available between getting home from work and the store and starting the bedtime routine.... some of us look at all those ingredients and just can't come up with what to do with them. I have a shelf full of cookbooks, I learned to cook as a child, I can make wonderful meals if I really put my mind to it... but I simply am incapable of coming up with a well-planned, healthy meal on a daily basis without a huge amount of thought and effort. I also live in a very small town where ingredients are not always available and the store actually closes in the evening. So yes – I rely a certain amount of the time on prepared meals and every now and then (gasp!) on pizza from the convenience store (we have no McD
    s here). I am not a bad parent. I am a GOOD parent because I teach my son to do the best we can, and more importantly, that I value time spent with him, that I am available to help him with homework or listen about his day, that he can participate in activities even though I have to work a lot, etc. .... The real answer to this issue is for food companies to make, and stores to sell, truly healthy pre-packaged meals for people like me.

    November 30, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      One approach to this problem is to do most of the week's prep on a single day, say Sunday. Of course, what you'll wind up with is a large pile of 'pre-prepared' food, but I guess there's some strange difference between food you pre-prepare yourself and food pre-prepared by someone else.

      Seriously, I just don't see what the problem is here. If it's easier to grab a handful of pre-shredded lettuce for a salad and it means the difference between having a salad and not having one at all, grab that handful and enjoy it. You haven't done anything wrong.

      November 30, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  25. Kate

    I was lucky enough to be raised in a household where my parents did, in fact, cook fresh and healthy meals for our family most nights of the week. I am now lucky enough that I have a job that allows me to cook nutritious meals most nights of the week. I think it's important to remember, however, that some are not so fortunate.

    There is a significant health-wealth gradient in our country today, and food plays largely into this picture. Many children are raised in single-parent households, and in order to keep a roof over their head, clothes on their back and food in their belly, parents have to work long hours that often don't allow for entirely homemade meals. In todays economic climate, even living in a household with two parents far from guarantees that there will be someone around to spend time cooking, as oftentimes both parents have to work. And yes, it would be ideal to cook on the weekends and freeze this food for the week, but some parents have to work on the weekends as well, just to survive.

    Hungry individuals are looking for the "most bang for their buck", so to speak. If you're forced to feed a family on a very tight budget, high caloric content paired with low price is this "bang". Yes, it's sad that high sodium ramen costs merely cents while salad fixings and lean meat cost significantly more, but such is the current state of affairs. Additionally, many cities have zoning regulations that result in poor areas filled with fast-food restaurants but no supermarkets. If transportation is an issue, it's no surprise that dinner often comes from the nearby McDonald's rather than from the Stop and Shop miles away.

    We should not condone eating prepared or fast foods, but we certainly must take into account other factors before we condemn it.

    November 30, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • jkshaz

      Beautifully said. A tip of my hat to you.

      November 30, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • angela

      Very well put, a big part of the puzzle that a lot of people overlook!!

      November 30, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  26. Jag

    Go to rural places in any country. They are lot healthier with less doctors. They eat natural foods and it is as simple as that. Even in America, talk to older genetaiion. They will explain you what they ate.

    November 30, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Eliza Clark

      There are recent studies that show that many rural areas, particularly in the south, have poorer nutrition because there are fewer transportation options, smaller stores with much worse selection of healthy and fresh foods, and yet still the preponderance of fast foods and convenience stores. Obesity rates are higher in the rural south than anywhere else.

      November 30, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Well, there are certainly fewer doctors and health care facilities. The people living there, though, are typically either a lot more UNhealthy than their urban counterparts, or they're prematurely dead.

      November 30, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  27. Kristin

    This issue has nothing to do with one parent feeling superior or better than another. It's quite simply an issue of the deterioration of our food culture and the industrialization of food. If you look at the French, the Italians, the Greeks they all spend significantly more money and time shopping, preparing and eating their food. They are all demonstrably healthier than Americans with lower rates of obesity and cancer. Relying on fast food and prepackaged meals is a cop out. It's a cop out because we as a society need to fundamentally realign the way we think about food and eating. Don't pull the tired, working mother card. There are millions of tired working mothers who make it a priority to feed themselves and their families well. It just takes a bit more planning and organization. It's well worth putting in the time at the outset rather than paying more in health care costs and premiums down the road.

    November 30, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • candace

      Those cultures also have shorter work days than most Americans, have more sick/family leave time than most Americans, and come from strongly family oriented cultures where there are many generations of the same family living in the same house. These factors allow them to have healthier, more frequently home cooked meals because their entire culture and society supports it, unlike in the U.S.
      It's not laziness or a cop out when you're a single parent working two jobs just to make your child even has food to eat and making sure they have everything else they need.

      November 30, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  28. Kristen

    Ive been a vegetarian for 5 years and both my husband and I worked very busy jobs in higher education. Every Sunday afternoon I'd prep and cook for the week so we were eating healthy lunches and had healthy dinners when we came home. We don't go out to eat that much or buy anything pre packaged food. If I want Mac and cheese I don't use a box, I make it from scratch. But these are my choices. When my daughter starts school she will be running circles around all the McDonalds babies. You want to love your kids? Don't give them TV, video games, cellphones, etc. My daughter sits in the kitchen and cooks with me. My husband helps. It's a family thing, as it should be. Buying frozen veggies, packaged salads, precut carrots is no big deal. Buying chef boyardee or tv dinners is. Make a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread before you zap on of those frozen poison bricks

    November 30, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Katie

      Kristen, You want to 'love your kids?' How about NOT bein' a hater. That goes for the person driving through mc ds everyday not hating on other family units who choose to make every meal together to the vegan fam getting over the fact that not everyone lives like them. Honestly people, from the begining of time every parent thinks they are right and every parent after them will think their way is better. I don't even want to write this comment anymore honestly its disgusting to read the nit picky crap people bicker about. Especially when the point of the article (at least to me) is to each their own. Anyway, I think a good baked mom style mac and cheese recipe is always simple and come on, who doesn't like cheese? Even the government 'cheese food' is dank!

      November 30, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
      • Just Here

        Thank you Katie! I couldn't have said it better myself! Live and let live. My days start at 6am and don't end until well after midnight. I dont only have work and kids to take care of. I have a high needs ailing parent to care for. I have no spousal support to pick up tasks while i cook. Some of us simply have to feed our families anyway we can sometimes. It doesn't mean that I disagree with fresh foods being more healthy, just sometimes I don't have the time or resources. Kristen obviously isn't a single parent, so has help with the daily activities from her spouse. Until someone walks in another person's shoes, they are in no place to put judgement on them.

        November 30, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • mouse

      I was with you until you said "poison bricks". Stop the judgment and hatefulness, and downright false statement. Frozen microwaveable foods are not poison.

      November 30, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  29. ...

    Sorry, but if you feed your children McDonald's more than occasionally and give them TV dinners (Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, etc.) several times a week, then, yes, you are a bad parent. If, however, you COOK using minced garlic, canned tomatoes, frozen (unseasoned) vegetables), boxed rice (preferably brown), etc. like this author mostly suggests, then you are a normal, concerned person. I have no kids, but my husband and I cook regularly, mostly using fresh ingredients but sometimes using canned or frozen. We stay away from fast food (except on occasion, like last night) and boxed meals because they are LOADED with sodium and other horrible preservatives, hydrogenated oils, etc. An easy and quick meal, however, doesn't have to be unhealthy. We love bagged salads and making our own pizza with fresh veggies. We also make DELICIOUS and NUTRITIOUS soups from canned beans, canned tomatoes, low sodium "stock in a box," and a fewfresh ingredients–and lots of stuff (healthy chilli, red beans & rice, etc.) can be frozen. Be sensible. The closer to natural it is, the healthier it is (generally), but it's OK to substitute SOME canned/frozen/etc. ingredients. And pretty much anything (even typically unhealthy stuff like hamburgers, pizza, mac & cheese, fried chicken, etc.) is better for you when cooked at home rather than bought in box-shaped chain "restaurant." Tips for busy parents: cook meals on the weekend and freeze them. Or invest in a crockpot!

    November 30, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • elfoodito

      gimme a call when you are juggling 2 or 3 kids. how impressive that you manage to make dinner for yourself and your spouse like a grownup. try doing it 7 nights a week with kids running around that require supervision and there may be the occasional shortcut needed.

      November 30, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • PDXmum

      Sorry ..., but I only take tips for busy parents from other busy parents. Or even just parents.

      November 30, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Laurie Neyman

      You don't even count on this forum. Sorry you wasted so much time typing.

      November 30, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Erica

      It's so amusing how people who can't handle scheduling their life with kids always want to b*,?!h to the people without kids how hard it is! Boo f-ing hoo, you made the decision to have children, deal with it. I work more ot a week because co workers have to leave to go take care of their kids so those of us without kids are constantly picking up the slack. I somehow manage to juggle a full 60+ hour work week, college classes, flight classes, skit trips, fishing trips ect ect and still manage to come home and cook almost every meal. There is nothing wrong with the occasional grabbing something fast here and there and by all means get your kids a pizza once in a while, but really, your kids are that much that you can't cook dinner??? That's the sad slope America is going, excuses for everything! My parents lived their lives very much the way I do now, with both of then working full time, one in school too, all well running our family orchard and raising 3 kids, it probably worked so well because they planned ahead and made us part of their lives and activities, and a large part of that was helping to cook!! I see so many people who pick there kids up from school or daycare, bring them home, and let them park it format of the tv or some video game, instead of having their kids help them. You wanted to be a parent,grow up and act like one instead of acting like the whining adult who uses having a child as an excuse for everything. And stop acting like your life is so much more hectic then the rest of ours, its not, you just choose to make it that way with your attitudes!!

      November 30, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
      • Cassie

        Erica - it's so wonderful that your parents spent so much time cooking you healthy food. Too bad they didn't spend more time teaching you empathy and manners, though. Which I guess is the whole point of this article, isn't it? Good parenting is more than cooking from scratch.

        December 1, 2011 at 2:02 am |
  30. @William

    I feed my kid healthy meals every day and provide him with everything he needs. The only difference between you and me is that I do it WITHOUT thinking that I'm better than everyone else in the world who may not do everything the way that I do it. Nice of you to consider me lazy without even knowing me. I was commenting on the fact that you think you are better than everyone else, but now I can at least see that I must be better off than you since I don't see the world through s**t-colored glasses.

    November 30, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • @William Demuth

      Why is it that when I try to reply to to a particular poster it puts it at the top instead of the troll I meant it toward?

      November 30, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  31. Crystal

    I think the confusion here really is about if we're taking the shortcuts on prepared otherwise "healthy" food (e.g. the bagged salad) or if we are really making the choices that include only fast food, and heat-and-serve foods.

    A lot of things fall somewhere in between... I almost feel like you can balance the "evil" of a marginal time-assist food with other items. For instance, we might choose to do frozen chicken nuggets one night with my 2 year old. To offset the assumed additional sodiums and whatnot from using that convenience, I'll serve with steamed fresh vegetables, and maybe a rice or noodle (not a packaged, sauced variety). Do not follow with dessert every night. All I can say is that so far this kind of thinking has steered us well; none of my household is overweight or unhealthy.

    November 30, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  32. William Demuth

    Prepared foods are a criminally bad choice.

    Quit whining and fullfill your duties.

    If you are unwilling to prepare proper meals for your children, you should not have them.

    You know the difference between a bagged salad and a frozen burritto, so don't try an BS your way out of your job.

    Either focus on your family or don't have one.

    You CAN NOT have it all, and it seems you don't even deserve it.

    November 30, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • @William

      High horse riders like you are the reason I'm beginning to lose faith in humanity.

      November 30, 2011 at 10:01 am |
      • William Demuth

        And lazy mooches like yourself give me the same sentiment.

        Condoms cost a quarter so making babies you can't handle is not my problem

        Either feed your kids or eat them, its no skin off my teeth

        November 30, 2011 at 10:20 am |
      • Humoratti Appreciado@Will De

        LMAO! WIN!

        November 30, 2011 at 10:23 am |
      • Lenny

        And lazy people like you should remember wearing rubber when making love.

        November 30, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Crystal

      Now you're just trolling

      November 30, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Jason K

      @ Wiliam Demuth

      You sir, are my hero.

      November 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      ALL foods are prepared.

      November 30, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  33. Missy Chase Lapine, author of The Sneaky Chef cookbooks

    Katia, not only do I understand the challenges you face everyday, even as a cookbook author, I experience similar real life challenges of the weekday time crunch, hungry kids that need to be fed fast in 5 minutes on the way to soccer, or not having time to prep something completely from scratch. The first thing we moms should scratch off the list is our guilt – that we're not good enough or doing enough for our families. Your child will remember the time you took to look her in the eye and talk about her day at school more than she'll remember the fact that you started the chicken recipe from scratch.
    I just completed a new book on this very subject of using shortcuts in our healthy cooking for families. The Speedy Sneaky Chef: Quick, Healthy Fixes for Your Favorite Packaged Foods offers 85 healthy meals in a hurry! I show people how to add healthy and homemade touches to the better packaged foods. For example, take that leftover canned pumpkin from Thanksgiving and add it to Instant Healthy Grain Cream of Wheat with milk and cinnamon; top with crushed graham crackers and you have Pumpkin Pie Hot Cereal in 5 minutes! For more, go to

    November 30, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • 1BusyMomma3

      Oh, Missy, I *heart* you! My mom got me one of your cookbooks for Christmas a couple of years ago, and I love it. I recommend it to everyone. Easy, practical, nutritious. Thanks for doing what you do.

      November 30, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • elfoodito

      your cookbook is great. i use the orange puree in lots of quick foods to give my daughter vegetables or fruits. even a brownie mix can be healthier with some sneaky fruit puree mixed in

      November 30, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  34. Crystal

    For my part, I think buying some precut carrots or salad bags might not doom the entire household. Further, heck, a jar of store-bought spaghetti sauce just might pop open at my house on any given week. I get it that it's "not hard" to make sauce from scratch, but when I leave the house at 7:30 am, return no earlier than 6, and have tiny children to contend with when I do, let me know if it's a sin I didn't stay up till midnight to make it, and chose to try to interact and play with my kids instead. And as they are both under the age of 3, getting them involved in the cooking right now is rather limited at best- perhaps not even wise when we're talking about hot stoves being instrumental! As a matter of fact, my husband and I take pains to cook nice meals on weekends and have become quite the weekend foodies. So judge not during the weekday marathons, because not everyone is blessed with the close commute or extra time to do everything perfectly. Some of us are just trying to get by the best we can!

    November 30, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  35. Ariko (&) Sofia

    Thanks for this article :)
    sometimes I eat pre-prepared food too. But still there is nothing can be compared and better than food cooked by a wife or mother...
    Hmm I missed food cooked by my mother :)

    Ariko, Jakarta – Indonesia
    Keep Sharing

    November 30, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  36. Lowell

    Yes... you are a bad parent if you do not cook/bake for your children from scratch. Processed food is ok on an occasion but if you have not noticed... the kids and people in general are getting fatter which is not healthy. Teach your kids something so they can function and not be depended on thier parents and the government forever. It is time for America to wake up. Stop being lazy. Stop using the excuse that you are "busy". It is laughable.

    November 30, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  37. RobertC

    There is no such word as "pre-prepared". It is patently redundant. Who proofreads this stuff?

    November 30, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • jkshaz

      Clearly not you.

      November 30, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  38. Dizzle

    Our children are in the kitchen every night with us and THAT is our priority. They are 4 and 5 and can be quite helpful and learn a lot in the process. Have them get ingredients from the fridge or spice rack. Have them line up items according to size or sort them by category. They help count and measure. We think of rhyming words. We learn and talk and it is my favorite part of our evening together. This is our CHOICE.

    November 30, 2011 at 7:10 am |
  39. huh

    I originally pulled this up to print off some quick meal ideas...most people just wanna complain, but I did get 1 or 2 ideas and for that I thank you, Commenters!

    November 30, 2011 at 6:55 am |
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