How Long Does Cooking Take?

Posted: May 25, 2015 in Diet
Tags: , , , ,

So I’ve posted before here about the problems with judging poor people for eating “unhealthy” foods. I was thinking about one particular aspect of the ways that eating healthy foods can cost more, in this case not so much in terms of money but time.

I am getting sick of people who suggest that cooking at home totally doesn’t take any longer than fast food.


Starting backwards in the process, one part I think no one ever seems to consider is clean up. When people talk about how quickly they can make a homemade meal, they pretty much never include the time to clean up. Which in my experience, takes a lot longer.

If I run out and buy fast food, I am using nothing that requires cleaning up. Now counter or stovetops that need to be wiped down after cooking. No cutting boards, knives, pots or pans. And no plates or silverware to eat with.

Part of what got me thinking of this is being able to cook at home and still keep up with all my dishes right now since school is over. Because when I get busy, I am more inclined to order or pick up food, or just eat frozen foods that I can heat up and eat in the container, and the issue for me is less often the time and effort to cook the food than the time and effort required for all the clean up after.

Even when food doesn’t require cooking if it requires any preparation that typically means something that needs to be cleaned, such as a cutting board and a knife.

I also feel like people tend to underestimate how long it takes to prepare meals from start to finish, at least the folks who claim “I can make a whole healthy meal in just 10 minutes”. Even recipes that estimate prep and cook time I feel like often underestimate the prep time…. or I just am really slow at cutting things up, though even if that’s the case it just goes to show that how long something takes you doesn’t mean that’s how long it would take anyone.

And I get underestimating how long it takes. I do that all the time. I never realize how long a lot of things I do take until I’m actually in a time crunch and suddenly like “how on earth does it take more than 2 minutes to run downstairs and get clothes from the laundry and put the clothes from the washer into the dryer?” It feels like it takes no time at all to me, but when I actually look at a clock, it’s a lot longer than I thought.

I imagine the same is often true for prep time in cooking for many people.

And there is definitely a degree of “you can’t assume how it works for you is the same for everyone”. When it comes to cooking time for foods, a lot of foods you can set and do something else for awhile. Of course I have no timer in my kitchen and am bad at setting one of my phone for food so I often leave food and forget about it until it’s burnt. Or I have something in the oven and I’m up every 5 minutes to check on it (in which case I’m not super productive in what I’m doing between checking on it) and often I check on it and it’s not quite done and then check again and it’s burnt, because apparently it was much closer to done than I thought. Even still, I’m not terrible at this and a lot of food I can leave to cook and do other things while it’s cooking. This is not the case for everyone. I’ve known people who said they had to be in the kitchen the whole time they were cooking something or they would always forget about it and burn it. That makes cooking more time and effort intensive if you can’t multitask at the same time.

And then even more time if you don’t already have the food at home to prepare and need to run to the store to get it.

This probably sounds like making a big deal out of a minor issue, until you are living in poverty and exhausted at the end of a long ass day, and you have the choice of picking up some cheap fast food at one of the many fast food places nearby or cooking at home.

*and I really mean many. ever been to Detroit? I’m still shocked a lot of the time at how many fast food places there are around all the time, and I’ve live in or very near Detroit most of my life (23 years by my count). And many of them are even 24 hour unlike the far fewer grocery stores. Access to fast food around here is much easier than access to groceries.

And the fact that fast food often makes more sense for poor folks because not just of the cost but the time and effort when you are already exhausted from the stresses of poverty is a serious public health issue. One that we should be putting in real effort toward fixing, primarily by working to end poverty. Pretending poor people are just too stupid to realize that cooking at home is just as cheap, fast, and easy is not only not true, it’s not helping anything.

  1. m says:

    So true! I heard someone talking about how parents with fat kids should be charged with child abuse and I couldn’t help but think that he’s clueless about the realities of either being poor or raising kids! I do try to cook at home and feed my kids well but I also know just how often there isn’t the time to go shopping, prep & cook, and clean up. Shaming people for working two jobs and then being too tired and time strapped to cook needs to stop.

    • ebay313 says:

      There are so many things wrong with suggesting that having kids who are ‘fat’ is child abuse!
      Talking about realities of parenting as well, even as someone who isn’t a parent yet it shocks me some of the ridiculous things some people believe about parenting/kids. I’ve heard, for example, that if kids don’t like a food, like refusing to eat certain vegetables, the only reason for this is that the parents don’t actually like it and are teaching that to their kids subconsciously. I had to inform my mom after this that she secretly doesn’t really like red meat, since obviously the only way I developed a dislike for the taste of red meat as a kid was because I learned it from her! smh.

  2. I’m a grad student so time is precious. I also have a mobility impairment that affects one of my arm, making estimated prep times laughable. It can easily take me 4 times as long to prep food. I also don’t drive and getting groceries on the bus while disabled is pure hell (I used to live on the fourth floor of a walk up which didn’t help). Yet when I started using a grocery delivery service (which made my life a lot easier) the first question people would ask me “how much does that cost?” knowing that I was on a shoestring budget.

    • ebay313 says:

      A grocery delivery service sounds like it would be great in situations like that! Is grocery delivery a common thing where you live? From some comments online it makes it sound like in some areas (mainly hear this from folks in countries other than the US), it’s normal for stores to always have home delivery options. I’ve heard of grocery delivery services here, but it’s not a standard thing for stores to offer.

      • This was during my MA when I was living in Toronto. You could order online and select a delivery window timeframe. I’ll be using it again when I go back for my PhD though I hope to avoid the fourth floor walk up. The service was through a big grocery chain. Right now I live in another province in a smaller city. There are private service companies that will shop for you but they cost a lot more. The service I used in Toronto cost 10$ on top of groceries for delivery. I find most bigger cities have similar services.

  3. gepee says:

    Ah, I thought this soooo often – they never count in the cleaning up afterwards.

    And cooking at home after a stressful day works for me, because I love cooking and find it very relaxing. But not everybody has to love cooking, and if it’s just another unloved chore after a day filled with unloved chores, then it is really difficult to do it all the time

  4. G says:

    I totally agree with this– the means to cook can be very hard to come by.

    And this is a place where a solitary lifestyle really stinks; cooking for one is HARD and economies of scale really make a big difference. Back in college I lived in a student co-op; everyone shared housework responsibilities and some folks worked on preparing communal meals (beats cleaning bathrooms, right?) Two of us working for a couple hours could prepare an adequate dinner for 50 hungry students in the industrial kitchen– plus we saved money buying food and produce in bulk too. And someone else did the cleaning up! (I’m still a pretty big fan of intentional communities.)

    I can easily spend an hour making dinner just for myself. My partner and I trade off on cooking and cleaning and that makes it easier but it’s still a pain a lot of nights.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s