Magazines, television and other popular media increasingly urge families to return to the kitchen, stressing the importance of home-cooked meals and family dinners to physical health and family well-being, researchers said.
"We wanted to understand the relationship between this ideal that is presented in popular culture and the realities that people live with when it comes to feeding their children," said Dr Sarah Bowen, an associate professor of sociology at North Carolina State University and co-author of a paper on the ongoing study.
The researchers interviewed 150 female caregivers in families with children between the ages of 2 and 8, as well as conducting in-depth observations of 12 of these families for a total of 250 hours.
"We found that middle-class, working-class, and poor families faced some similar challenges," said Dr Sinikka Elliott, an associate professor of sociology at NC State who co-authored the paper.
"For example, mothers from all backgrounds reported difficulty in finding time to prepare meals that everyone in the family would be willing to eat," Elliott said.
In addition, middle-class mothers reported being torn between their desire to spend quality time with their children and the expectation that they needed to provide the children with a home-cooked meal.
But, while all families reported financial considerations as a factor in meal planning, finances affected family decisions in very different ways.
For example, middle-class mothers were concerned that they weren't able to give their kids the best possible meals because they couldn't afford to buy all organic foods.
Poor families, meanwhile, faced more severe restrictions. Their financial limitations made it more difficult for them to afford fresh produce, find transportation to grocery stories, or have access to the kitchen tools needed to prepare meals - such as sharp knives, stoves, or pots and pans.
"Poor mothers also skipped meals and stood in long lines at non-profit food pantries to provide food for their children," Bowen said.
"This idea of a home-cooked meal is appealing, but it's unrealistic for a lot of families.
"We as a society need to develop creative solutions to support families and help share the work of providing kids with healthy meals," Bowen added.
The study is published in the journal Contexts.

Latest News from Lifestyle News Desk