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S8 E9 – Is the 15 minute meal craze damaging long term?

With current trends moving toward quicker, convenient recipes… are we no longer learning valuable skills and methods that make us better cooks in the long term?

Best soundbite“If I’m coming to work, having a bath or doing a poo… I’ll get a book out!” – Barry Taylor

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  1. Annie1962

    It’s not how long you cook a meal for; it’s what you cook

    Steamed veges take no time at all.

    A salad takes no time at all, as does a stir fry

    You might remember the experiment you did, albeit not very scientific, but it showed that there was no risk to nutritional quality by microwaving food.

    Quality over quantity.

  2. ceecee

    Fifteen minutes is much too short for me to make a good meal. And I want to enjoy the process, cramming the cooking time is just too much. Thirty to sixty minutes is where I usually end up cooking (admittedly, I don’t have kids so the only mess I am cleaning up is of my own – and spouse’s – creation.)

  3. Kwebster

    This was very inspiring. Priorities! I could enjoy cooking each night, I think. One obstacle is I’m usually starving when I get home, so tend to snack while I am cooking. My routine now is make a bunch of stuff on Sunday to mix and match on my plate each night. Just microwaving when I get home. However I don’t have a family to feed…. so easy peasy for me. However as I said this is inspiring me to enjoy my evenings cooking rather than enjoy my evenings sitting! Great pod

  4. Eliziebear

    Such an interesting topic,
    My cooking habits have really changed over the last 3 months,
    the reason for this I have changed jobs and am now working more hours each day but from home.
    Last night I made a Lentil Lasagna because I was able to spend 15mins to put the lentils and sauce together then leave it bubbling on the hob for 45/50mins , semi watching it, go and do more week, then do the assembly and work while it cooks, so my active time cooking is still often minimal, though I have been more regular been spending 45mins an hour cooking dinner.
    It has really changed how I consider our evening meals, it very much reminds me of how my grandmother prepared meals for my grandfather. The feminist in me struggles with this a bit but I do really enjoy providing meals for my partner. And I do think we are eating a bit healthier.

  5. Lolosacados

    I come from a food-lovers french familly.
    My parents would place food over a lot of other things, sandwiches were out of questions for lunches or pic-nics. On weekdays lunch they would throw away a meat with some pasta or frozen vegs in less than ten minutes with a lot of process stock. My mother was in charge of the weekdays meal and my father on the weekends one. So the shopping was made once a week on saturdays, both to the farm market and the supermarket. Yes my father used to unwind in the kitchen on sundays. I think it felt more like a routine for my mother with a less time to cook than what she would like, and in her own words after maybe 10 or 20 years she said she lost the some skills. For my point of view she definitely lost some confidence like she was affraid to try something new. It took her a while after retirement to go experiment again in the kitchen. So having more time on their hand, I feel that my parents use it for a better sourcing and more fresh ingredients rather than more time in the kitchen.
    Did they pass their skills on to their children? Yes and no. I am not as good with meat than my father nor with fish than my mother but my brother is all about sauce and I more of the pastry kind of girl. Will some skills will disappear? Maybe from a familly perspective , but not from a culture alltogether because Internet brought so much for foodies. When I had to choose a university I was torn between cooking school or engineering and I chose the second one, for the only reason that it is easy to find knowledge about food not so much about hydraulics or biochemicals. There will always be someone to find this old book and try and try agin a recipe until rediscovering the skills or invent a new one and make it a trend for professionals and passionaes cooks alike.

    Now I have a question for the sortedteam: do you think that whatever your skills level are you have to spend more time in the kitchen to improve or expand your horizons or did you find a weekly timing where you feel good that there will be always space to challenge yourself with novelty?
    It would be awsome to have a video at the end of the year with each member of the team explaining the biggest trick/techniques they learned this year and maybe kind of doing it like the old level up series.

  6. alm477

    I wanted to separate this out from my response to VixReviews.

    I have to admit, cooking is usually a chore for me (unless it’s baking something for someone else, in which case it is fun because it is a gift and I like giving gifts). I often don’t start to cook until I’m already quite hungry, in which case my mentality is “what will make the hunger pains stop quickest?” Sometimes that answer is toast or frozen potato products in the oven. 15minute meals would be an improvement for me on weekdays, but they do tend to rely on you having the right ingredients at home (which I often do not) or the right appliances (which may I may not have and may be a pain to clean). And assume a level of comfort/skill/SPEED with a knife that I do not have and would have to make time to acquire. Weekends, if not busy with something in the evening/afternoon, or lazy holidays are when we do longer cooking recipes (hopefully with leftovers for the week!).

    Also, as someone who has training in mental health, there was an offhand comment that bugged me: While antidepressants are usually a temporary aid for most people with depression (are most effective when combined with therapy, and don’t work for everyone), not all forms of clinical depression are actually caused by an event/something horrible in someones life. Sometimes it really is a chemical imbalance in their brain that therapy can kinda help them manage, but medication really is the stronger tool for that cause. For the record, that is one of the hardest types of depression to treat. To put it this way, for those proscribed anti-depressants: most need anti-depressants like someone with a broken leg needs a cast and a pair of crutches. A few people need anti-depressants the way someone born without a leg needs a prosthetic and/or mobility aides. Both groups deserve to get the treatment they need without stigma. This has been a Public Service Announcement…

  7. VixReviews

    This is certainly an interesting topic, but less so about what we do now and more so the history of why things changed.

    As always I would thoroughly recommend Ruth Goodman’s living history programs. For this topic, I’d recommend watching Edwardian Farm, followed by Wartime Farm to see the changes between the two, and potentially also Victorian Pharmacy, as they cover the rise of processed foods and the changes in the lifestyles of the average British family. I’m not sure what to suggest to look at the rise in urbanisation from the perspective of those living within the city, but it’s also relevant to this topic, as it answers several questions you considered in this podcast. If anyone has any good suggestions on the history of how women’s lib changed the food we eat, I would love to have more reading, particularly from a non-UK perspective.

    One question you asked was about why people don’t make their own jams and chutneys any more, and I can answer this one from experience. As a child, my family made our own jams and chutneys, and it was lovely. We went out berry picking in autumn, and had a garden and greenhouse that produced masses of fruit and veg, and the whole family would sit around the table together to peel, core, and prep all the ingredients. As an adult, I no longer do that, even though I have all the knowledge to do it, and am not working so have the time. So why not? First, I live in a city centre, with no car, so berry picking is pretty much right out. Everywhere that is easily accessible has already been picked out the moment anything ripens. Obviously, a greenhouse and large garden full of fruit and veg is also right out in a flat. So the only sensible option is buying the ingredients, which is about as expensive, if not more so for things like jam, than just buying the final product. Another reason is kitchen space. Prepping the ingredients for jams takes a long time, which is fine if you have several people all sitting around a table together chatting as they do it, but it is no fun standing on your own in a tiny windowless box. When living in a city (as more and more people are doing), it is no longer economically worthwhile to make your own jams and chutneys, and the social aspects are stripped from it so it is no longer a fun activity for the family and instead a chore.

    Another question you brought up was right at the end. In some countries, they spend two hours over each meal. Ok, why do they do that? And what is different? First, a question for Barry and Jamie to consider. If they got home from work at 6 and then spent two hours cooking a meal, would their children have started crying before it was ready? So how do the countries that do spend hours over a meal do it? In many cases, by limiting women’s freedom to work outside the home. In others, by working fewer hours and having later lunches. I would bet that in pretty much all cases, what doesn’t happen is both partners working a 9-5 job, with an hours commute, then getting home and spend two hours on a meal that by the time they’re done they will be too tired to eat.

    I have many other points to make on this, but it’s all stirred together in my brain now. This is a super complicated topic, you could literally write an entire dissertation on this and still not say everything on it. So, I’ll give some bullet points of points to consider:
    – Women’s labour, both historically and around the world
    -Access to public land, legally (see Scotlands right to roam laws vs somewhere like Florida with virtually no access protections) but also physical access (increase in urbanisation, massive reduction in rural train stations in the UK)
    -Access to gardens (again, urbanisation, but also changes in land value and house prices)
    -Cost of ingredients for individuals vs companies (mass production, ‘perfect’ fruit and veg available to individuals vs seconds available to companies in bulk)
    -Commute time and energy expenditure (look at rise of commuter towns, rise of the car, changes in urban land use)
    -No time vs no energy (is modern life more exhausting is a dissertation all on its own, rise of autism and ADHD in modern urban environments is a surprisingly good intro to this, maybe also check out spoon theory for this from a chronic disability angle)
    -Value of time/energy (Is it worth it? You covered this pretty well)

    So yeah, uh, interesting topic. Possibly a little more to say on it than can be covered in a 30 minute podcast or in the comment section.

    • alm477

      VixReviews, if I could give a standing ovation to your comment I would.

      A few things I’ll add:

      Part of the reason that we (at least in the US) spend less of a percentage of our income on food now is because other things have gotten more expensive–in the US, this means housing, healthcare and childcare in particular which now take up a much larger percentage of a households budget.

      I would also say that there is a nasty trend of Optimize Your Life! that devalues things like food and other basic bodily necessities. The assumption that eating, sleeping, and leisure is is Wasted Time is both pernicious and prevalent (and is killing us). I don’t know if this is something you see a lot of in Britain (though your Al Desko episode makes me think it is), but it’s definitely A Thing in the US.

      There is a phrase some one (google is saying it’s a tweet from Shailja Patel) had that stuck in my brain: “Money buys time” meaning that those with money can buy back hours of their life to do something else. You kind of touched on it–if you have paid out the money for a dishwasher, you have bought back some of the time you would have spent doing dishes. This is true of many appliances (as many people have pointed out in comments on your Kenwood heavy episodes). That applies to food too, as Ben touched on. If you can pay for a service to pick out and deliver your groceries to your home, you have bought back the amount of time you would have spent traveling to the store and shopping. If you can buy pre-cleaned, cut and prepped fruit/veg, you have bought back the time it would have taken to do it yourself. Premade bread, stock, canned sauce, preserves, jams, baking mixes, gelatin, etc are all ways that we buy back our time. But not everyone has the equal ability (because unequal income) to buy back time. For the record, this is part of the reason that low income people eat more processed ready meals–it’s one of the few ways they can buy back their time.

      VixReviews has that glorious list of things that includes women’s labor, and I would like to add to that:

      — servants, which were once much more common in both Britain and the US (even for middle class families) and remain common in some parts of the world. Labor intensive food is often associated with wealth for that very reason. Frankly a lot of the reason some ingredients are expensive is the amount of labor that goes into processing/finding them.

      –appliances and advances in chemistry. I once read someone’s blog post on using a cake recipe from Tudor England that didn’t use a leavening agent, but it did require someone (probably low ranked person in the kitchen, and this modern person used a stand mixer) to whisk the batter for a full HOUR to get air into it.

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