Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lifehacking, feminist engineer style: meals & cooking

Perhaps the first in a series of posts where I examine the structures Ben and I have instituted in our lives to at least attempt gender parity in the home. As a pragmatist, I know we may never been entirely equal. As an idealist (as well as a lazy person), I believe it is worth striving for.

When it comes to planning meals and cooking for the family, you first have to identify the tasks:
  • Meal Planning -- what recipe to make, what sides to put with it, when to cook it, when to eat it, and when to eat out.
  • Grocery Shopping -- getting the resources you need to execute the plan
  • Cooking -- What most people consider the actual work: the act of applying heat to the resources to turn them into something you can eat. In reality, if you do the first and second well enough this can be optimized to 15-20 minutes worth of work a day.
  • Cleaning -- table cleaned off, dishes into the dishwasher, dishwasher run as needed, cooking dishes cleaned/soaked/dishwashed, counters and tabletop wiped.
  • Dishwasher cleaned out (asynchronous task).
  • Leftover management -- leftovers put into appropriate containers, ideally added to a list so they aren't forgotten about.
In our household, these tasks are split the following way:

Meal Planning/Grocery Shopping/Cooking -- Owned by Ben or Sara on alternating weeks. What this means is that you have ownership over everything food related for that week -- if you don't plan, or forget to buy something at the grocery store, or don't get home in time to cook it's your problem. (We do occasionally pitch in to help each other out -- but the ownership that means when it isn't your week, you don't worry about it.) It also means we eat a nice variety of foods -- Ben's food one week (hello cube steak), Sara's the other (mushroom soba noodles, anyone?). If you need something from the grocery store on your off week, you just make sure you add it to the list on the fridge.

Cleaning -- generally done by the person who isn't cooking. While this isn't entirely optimal (it doesn't give you a good incentive to clean as you go or use as few dishes as possible), our dinners are usually simple enough that it isn't a big deal. We're also slowly integrating Miss J. into this task -- with the hope that she'll handle the table portion, at least, by the time she's 5 or 6.

Dishwasher clean out -- not officially allocated. I think Ben does this more than I do, but I may do it more than he does. Often we combine it with fixing dinner or cleaning up from dinner.

Leftover management -- not our best task. I tend to put away leftovers more than Ben does, but it officially falls on the Cleaner for the week. Managing eating them, however, should be the responsibility of the Cooker for the week. In reality, leftover management often falls into the "refrigerator cleanout" task, which Ben often does (especially the gross parts).

I think the smartest thing about our system is the alternating weeks. We know whose job it is to cook on a given day -- no micromanagement or tiresome negotiation needed. And by trading off the thinking parts of the responsibility we each get a break -- this wouldn't be nearly as "fair" (or as fun) if one of us was always planning the meals and doing the grocery shopping, with the other pitching in to cook.

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