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This week, I’m bringing Double Shifters an offbeat collab that combines many things I love, such as food, equal partnership, and surviving family life in 2024. I’m doing this with Better Life Lab Experiments, a project that seeks to empower families to try innovative strategies to more fairly share the load of housework and care work at home. Working together, we’ve come up with their boldest experiment yet, and it comes with an exciting opportunity. The Pressure Cooker podcast, an award-winning show about parenthood, feeding kids, and how it became so complicated wants to interview real families who are willing to give this experiment a try! If that's you, send an email to Jane Black, co-host of the podcast at email@example.com. You can also leave Pressure Cooker a voice message telling them about your own family’s struggle with the mental load and work of meal planning throughout the week. We want to hear from you and we may share your story with others!
Without further ado, let’s shake up the mental load around food with this “food director for a week” experiment.
About a year ago, my husband and I agreed to radically overhaul how we handled food and cooking in our family. Previously, we had a weird, not fully thought-out system where I’d shop at one store one week, he’d shop at another store another week, and we’d trade off cooking and cleaning by the day...sort of. It involved a lot of checking in and day-to-day planning and a heavy mental load.
We both agreed our system wasn’t awesome. We then got inspired by some friends of ours who were inspired by Fair Play to rethink how they managed their division of labor around food. One of Eve Rodsky’s most essential pieces of advice is allowing people to fully “own the whole task,” from planning to completion, rather than having one member of the couple defaulting to being “in charge” while the other person is “helping out.”
We have six people living in our house, three of them small children, so there are many, many conceptional and execution tasks between an empty refrigerator and enough food for three meals a day, seven days a week (give or take), including cooked family dinners for usually 6 of those nights. The problem is it’s hard to fully “own” some of the complex, interconnected tasks associated with food. If one person shops and the other person cooks, there is going to have to be a lot of communication and rejiggering when the store is out of three things.
My husband and I now have fully committed to a program we call “Food Weeks,” where one person is fully in charge of all aspects of shopping, prepping, cooking, and kitchen cleaning for a full seven days.... and then we switch off the next week. When it’s not your food week, you are totally “off” from both the mental load and the execution tasks of feeding the family.
Are you new to the Pressure Cooker podcast? Listen to a few of their recent episodes!
Why this works for our family: Our marriage generally thrives with strong divisions of labor and avoiding situations where we might be tempted to micromanage each other. We have other systems like bedtimes where we flip who does what so we are pretty comfortable regularly rotating tasks. We eat dinner as a family most nights, but we don’t plan breakfast or lunches. We mainly just have a list of items we need around for those meals, and the person whose week it is gets those at the grocery store.
Why I love it and why I think you will, too. I love that we just know who’s in charge of food at any given time, there’s no negotiation. It’s one less thing to communicate about, which is great because that list is already pretty long. I enjoy cooking and generally like planning what I will make for my week. But when it’s not my food week, and I don’t have to do any shopping, cooking, or cleaning, I feel like I get way more time back in the evenings than I ever did with our previously haphazard system. When it’s not my food week, it feels like a real break. I will get in extra errands, a trip to the gym, longer workdays, or more downtime to read or watch TV in the evenings while never feeling like I should be helping with dinner or cleanup stuff.
I feel like “Food Week” has been a wonderful change for us, and I hope you’ll consider giving it a try.
The Food Director for a Week Experiment:
What We’re Trying to Solve: Equally sharing the load of the many separate but interconnected tasks that go into feeding a family
Target Audience: A pair of adults in the same household
Ages: Adults or teens old enough to shop for groceries independently
Estimated Time: Several hours during your week, but plenty of time off when it’s not
Length: At least two weeks, but I recommend committing to four
Difficulty Level: Hard
- At least three days before you want to begin, decide when you are starting (we like to go Sunday to Sunday) and who will go first in your trade-off.
- Go over the schedule for the upcoming week and make note of anything the “Food Week” person should be aware of, like a potluck, existing plans to meet friends at a restaurant, etc.
- Go over the list of what each person will be responsible for during their “food week.” Rodsky calls this a “minimum standard of care,” that partners or other family members should agree to before they hand off ownership of a task. This ensures everyone agrees what the person in charge should accomplish.
- Here’s a basic list to start with, but you know your household and family dynamic best. Feel free to start from here and customize as needed. The food director each week should:
- Decide what you are serving for the next 7 days of dinners (leftovers and double batches are fine, but food preferences/dietary restrictions of the whole household must be taken into account)
- Evaluate what food items you need for the following week for both planned meals, and other meal items and staples
- Make a grocery list
- Procure groceries (through in-person or online shopping)
- Unload groceries
- Set the table
- Cook dinner
- Clear table
- Load dishwasher
- Wipe down counters
- Take out kitchen trash/recycling if needed
- Do additional dishes/kitchen cleanup.
If you have kids or other members of the household who can help out, the food director for the week can delegate to them to ease the load, but it’s important that the director is ultimately responsible for monitoring this work and making sure it gets done.
Optional: Do a one-time sharing of tips and information if a partner is taking on a brand-new task. For example, let them know your favorite recipe site, that a certain grocery store stopped carrying a preferred brand, or that there’s a quirk about dishwasher loading. Keep this to basic/essential information. The point of this exercise is for them to fully take on the tasks and do it how they want to, not to mimic exactly how the other adult does it.
Parameters: Mutually decide if you want any additional parameters to the food week, like a grocery budget to stay under, a limit on restaurant meals or prepared foods, or that dinner must be served around certain times, etc.
Sharing with family/kids: Let other household members know whose food week is coming up so they can direct any special grocery or meal requests to that person.
Why you should consider doing this for two rounds, for a total of four weeks. There is likely going to be a learning curve for one or both partners in trying out new tasks. I recommend alternating food weeks twice. The second food week may be a lot easier than the first, and that may give you better insight if this is the right system for your family going forward. And remember, just like my family set our own rules for this experiment, you can too! Try it out, and if problems arise, feel free to change up some of the rules to make this work for you!
Important Note: Once it’s someone’s food week, the other person may not micromanage, tell them what to cook, critique their dishwashing or oversee in any other way. You may ask the person who is off from food week if they have any special requests from the grocery store, but the food week person must make the overall list.
Remember, if your family wants to try this, email to Jane Black, co-host of the Pressure Cooker podcast at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also leave Pressure Cooker a voice message telling them about your own family’s struggle with the mental load and work of meal planning throughout the week. We want to hear from you and we may share your story with others!
Alright Double Shifters, you’ve heard all about how my family manages food. Now I want to hear from you. How do you handle feeding (and the mental load around it) for your family? Members will get this prompt to their inboxes Thursday. If you want in on the fun, become a member! It makes this work possible. It starts at $7/mo.
Thank You Mirza Movers! I enjoyed talking with founder Siran Cao about how care can change the world for her new YouTube Series.
Durham, NC VOTERS! Come meet the groundbreaking State Senate Primary Challenger Sophia Chitlik who is putting CARE at the center of her platform! February 18th from 2-5pm there will be a canvas kickoff with food, facepainting and bounce house. This is exciting underdog campaign that's gonna be close, so don't forget to vote in the March 5th primary!