How To Give Time When You're Too Busy

If I could ask for one thing in my Christmas stocking this year, it would be the gift of time; filling it from red velvet tippy toe to fuzzy white brim. (A little spilling over onto the floor would be nice, if you can spare it, Santa.)

Between working full-time, keeping up with the kids’ activities, household chores and errands, it seems there’s never enough free time to spend enjoying my family, having a cup of tea with friends, or – in my wildest dreams – indulging in a little “me” time.

While doing the dishes one day, I reflected on where my time goes. And doing a quick mental calculation (spoiler alert: I was never good at math), I’d say half my life is focused on food: meal planning; grocery shopping; then washing, peeling, chopping, boiling, frying, baking … and any other verb you can think of that relates to cooking. (Except for fancy verbs associated with French cooking, like flambéing – I don’t do that.)

Then there’s clean-up: washing, drying and putting away; which in my house is usually only a moderate success. My counter is rarely clear of dishes left to air-dry. Or dirty cups and plates that magically appear sink-side after the dishwater is drained. There’s just never enough time to catch-up.

And it turns out I’m not the only one who feels crunch time when it comes to munch time.

At a recent ladies’ weekend retreat, we swapped stories on packed schedules and picky eaters – ironically while enjoying a home cooked meal that none of us had any part in conceiving, preparing or cleaning up after. What a treat!

“Thank goodness for Kraft dinner and microwaves”, one of the ladies commented, prompting an exchange of favourite time-saving meal strategies: from slow cooker meals that spawn leftovers to reheat for a quick week night dinner – to signing the kids up for the school’s weekly pizza lunch to have a welcome one-day reprieve from sandwich-making.

With grocery stores, modern appliances, ready-to-eat foods and take-out options, meal preparation isn’t as intensive or time-consuming as it used to be when meals were made “from scratch”, and food preparation was the main focus of the day.

It’s not like it was for the Italian Nona of one of the retreat ladies, who – like many women – handled the whole farm-to-clearing-the-table-and-washing-up cycle, starting with slaughtering and plucking the chicken. “It was hard back then”, my fellow retreater observed, “I think women used to work until they died”.

Yes, some things have changed – in some parts of the world. Like here in North America.

Now, American adults (age 18+) spend an average of only 33 minutes a day preparing food, including wash-up. And meal preparation is squeezed in between other activities instead of being the day’s main event.

But some things stay the same: women, on average, still spend more time (47 minutes) preparing food than men (18 minutes). And though women do less work around the house than they used to, their chores are the “never-ending” ones, like cooking, says Geoffrey Godby, a time-use expert at Penn State University, “Working mothers with young children are the most time-scarce segment of society.”

… ‘just sayin’, Santa.

Still, relatively speaking, the time we spend getting meals together is miniscule compared to what is required in many countries; especially among the poor. Here, women also do the brunt of the work - and in some countries women do work until they die.


Because meal preparation involves so much more than making a list and driving to the grocery store for reheatables. Let me explain.

Women are the world's principal food producers and providers, including of the world's staple crops (rice, wheat, maize), which provide up to 90% of the rural poor's food intake. So women spend considerable time doing physical labour in the fields.

Then, cooking requires excessive amounts of time to fetch water and gather firewood, which takes a lot of energy, too. Up to 85% of women’s daily energy intake can be used up for these grueling tasks that also take a physical toll on the body in forms of chronic fatigue and anemia; spinal and pelvic deformities; and effects on reproductive health such as miscarriage.

More time is spent on cooking, too, on open fires or smoky stoves that are much less efficient than modern ranges and convection ovens. Especially in poorly ventilated homes, the regular inhalation of wood smoke while cooking can lead to acute and chronic respiratory diseases, burns, eye diseases, low birth weights and increased infant mortality

Just how much time are we talking about here? Check out these numbers:

·         In some regions, women spend 5 hours a day collecting fuel wood and water. In some parts of Africa, women and children can spend up to 8 hours a day collecting water alone.
·         Women and girls across the world collectively spend about 200 million hours per day collecting water. That’s 22,800 years worth of walking – every single day!

So the estimate of me spending “half my life” preparing meals is probably a little off … ok, maybe a lot. But – by the numbers – it’s easy to see the concept of time poverty accurately describes the situation of many women around the world.

Food preparation takes so much time, it comes at the cost of spending it in other ways; like caring for children, helping them with their studies, participating in family or social activities, or having a paying job.

For girls, water and fire wood collection takes time away from their education, and in many cases prevents them from attending school at all; a “colossal waste” of valuable time, according to UNICEF.

And once all working hours are accounted for – whether paid employment or unpaid household work – there is no time left for much needed rest and leisure … let alone time to attend a ladies’ retreat.

So how about stuffing someone’s Christmas stocking with seconds, minutes – or maybe even hours?

Food for the Hungry Canada’s (FH’s) Gift Guide has great time-saving gifts that can help girls and women spend less time preparing meals, so they have more of it to go to school, or to spend with family and in their community.

And ordering from the FH Gift Guide online saves you time – so you can indulge in a little me time.   

Here are my top time-saving FH Gift Guide picks to put some “tick tocks” in Christmas socks:

Cooking with Gas: Bio-gas systems that use manure to power cook stoves help cut down on fuel wood collection and cooking times without cutting down trees.

GirlPower: Keep girls where they belong – in school! – instead of spending most of their time on household chores, by providing gender equality training.  

School Garden: FH’s solution to school “pizza day”, but a whole lot healthier. School gardens provide fruits and veggies that supplement kids’ lunches, and helps them learn essential life skills, like how to grow nutritious food themselves.

Water Well: Help dig a well for a village, and watch the community come alive as girls and women thrive; returning to school and finding fruitful ways to spend their new-found time.

It only takes a minute to save hours, days – and lives. Will you take a moment today to give a gift of time from the FH Gift Guide?




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Food for the Hungry: How To Give Time When You're Too Busy
How To Give Time When You're Too Busy
Food for the Hungry
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