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The Mental Load & Meal Preparation


The mental load of a primary parent can be seen, manifested in some physical form in almost every part of the day. If you could hear the internal dialogue of this person's brain, you would feel how we humans have up *70,000 thoughts race through our head's each day. Due to the nature of our society, I will refer to the person carrying the mental load here as, the mother. In most cases, it is.


When someone thinks "what will we have for dinner", to the time the dinner is presented on the table, the executive functioning skills enacted could make you feel like a drunk play of Chutes and Ladders. Let's review this one...


What time will my child be hungry based on what type of morning nutrition and what time they ate?

  1. What food is available in the fridge?

  2. What needs to be eaten soon in order to prevent food waste?

  3. What foods can go together, flavor-wise?

  4. What combinations will make enough food for us?

  5. Which combinations will provide adequate fuel for my growing child?

These skills involve planning, organizing, sequencing, and executing. While I am making this meal, my child is asking for a snack and creating a story out of small animals, little ripped pieces of paper and tape creations on the dining room table. She is talking about her play, asking questions and seeking playful engagement. I show her that I am making food but I can listen and see her creation. I can be present in this situation.


I move from chopping vegetables from the kitchen to the dining room table in order to share

space. Why? She doesn't eat onions. I want her continuously exposed to the beauty of their colors, smells, the look of them when chopped. She chats. She pauses occasionally. I feel lucky to be there, with her, cooking. I take a moment to appreciate how I can divide attention between chopping and listening. Chopping is such a familiar activity that it barely feels like attention divided. It is a skill I have built, years of being a Mama. You build this skill as a mother. I recognize my skills. I can look in the fridge and create a meal from what some people may refer to as "nothing to eat" (that's another story). As I chopped and we chatted, my daughter said "I love the smell of onions". It was one of those moments that could be viewed as a simple sentence. Not to me. She doesn't eat onions unless she doesn't notice them. However, her brain recognizes that the smell of raw onions being chopped is homey. It equates to comfort. It means she is in a space in which she is loved and cared for. It means she will have a complete meal. It means relaxation and enjoyment. Nourishment. Although she doesn't' seemingly like onions, she has a positive association to them that will likely carry throughout her life. The sense of smell "is important for nutrition, safety, and quality of life"**.


Being here, together, she is learning how to "make do". She is learning to nourish herself by

observation. She does also participate but not every time. As we know, exposure and presence have a significant impact on children. They are always watching, all their senses taking in the environment you are cultivating for them. Children learn safety (knife, stove use, timers) skills, executive functioning skills, resilience, health and social connection.


So, as we talked and chopped, the smell of the onions became another detail of her olfactory storage center, her emotions. This smell may help her regulate her emotions some day as she is cooking on her own, or with friends, family, remembering comforting simple, moments like this. It will impact her health and her relationships moving forward in her life.


My daughter's meal and mine were not identical. I mixed all the parts of mine together. She ended up having cucumbers instead of the pepper and onion mix. She had plain carrots instead of them doused in a vinegary garlic sauce I made. She devoured the haddock that had pepper on it that she originally said she didn't want. She asked for third's.



I move from chopping vegetables from the kitchen to the dining room table in order to share space. Why? She doesn't eat onions. I want her continuously exposed to the beauty of their colors, smells, the look of them when chopped. She chats. She pauses occasionally. I feel lucky to be there, with her, cooking. I take a moment to appreciate how I can divide attention between chopping and listening. Chopping is such a familiar activity that it barely feels like attention divided. It is a skill I have built, years of being a Mama. You build this skill as a mother. I recognize my skills. I can look in the fridge and create a meal from what some people may refer to as "nothing to eat" (that's another story). As I chopped and we chatted, my daughter said "I love the smell of onions". It was one of those moments that could be viewed as a simple sentence. Not to me. She doesn't eat onions unless she doesn't notice them. However, her brain recognizes that the smell of raw onions being chopped is homey. It equates to comfort. It means she is in a space in which she is loved and cared for. It means she will have a complete meal. It means relaxation and enjoyment. Nourishment. Although she doesn't' seemingly like onions, she has a positive association to them that will likely carry throughout her life. The sense of smell "is important for nutrition, safety, and quality of life"**.


Cooking is one of the many invisible labors of motherhood. But why? With children's obesity and screen time at an absolute high it would be nice if society cared more about this mental load, this invisible labor and did not cater to the easiest out: gold fish, tv shows/video games and "kid's menus". Instead of distracting and appeasing basic needs, let's nourish them.


Next time you "throw a meal together", recognize your efforts, your skills, and smile to yourself. If you carry this aspect of your daily mental load, Bravo. Be proud of yourself. You are a talented, thoughtful and loving Mama. Your actions and this love you share will carry on in your child.


*There is debate about how many. This is an estimation based off of......(https://healthybrains.org/brain-facts/).

**https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6051253/


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