Want more time in life? Do what New Yorkers do

“What for dinner?” or “Aaj kya bana hai” is a common phrase you might have heard and said while growing up in your loving Indian family. Humans are the creature of habit and what creates strong habits than an age-old culture. 

The food culture I saw while growing up in my typical Indian society was of eating 3 times a day – Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner with my mother mostly being the creator of these dishes while managing her very hectic job. In many ways, my father was an exception to the generic men around me- he cooked and cleaned when my mom was on job but this was solely a woman’s field. For the record, typical Indian meals are also not simple therefore cooking and eating takes a lot of time.

An average household in a metropolitan city has three meals a day with breakfast options ranging from bread butter jam, oats, paratha, upma, dosa, idly, bambino, poha, to sometimes a fancy poori bhaji. Typical lunch and dinner would be freshly home-cooked chapati, rice, sabzi, daal, and curd. 

It is also common for most households to eat by the clock and not by hunger. This means that most often than not, you are eating more calories than you need but you knew that already. But the funny thing like most cultural habits is that we forget that this was once a frowned upon ritual. Even now, people like Sadhguru are asking people to eat only twice a day and to limit the amount of food. 

The custom of eating 3 meals originated with people from England who were wealthy at the end of WW II.  

When I told this to my dear friend Sameera Sultan who is a pilot and juggles with meal making and job, jokingly said, “eating 3 perfect meals a day is the biggest scam”. I could not agree more and I found this after I came to the USA.

So how do you find yourself with extra time in the USA?

You simply won’t find yourself making 3 elaborate dishes each day. I can’t say for all but for most people, this is the standard truth. Now listen, this is not specific to the USA only but as I am living in New York City and practicing this lifestyle, let’s use the USA for example.  

History Lesson

what happened before 3 meals a day 

People were mostly eating 2 meals a day. Yes, believe me. In fact, as per BBC.com, Romans were eating one meal a day and food historian Caroline Yeldham said there that “The Romans believed it was healthier to eat only one meal a day,” she says. “They were obsessed with digestion and eating more than one meal was considered a form of gluttony. This thinking impacted on the way people ate for a very long time.

Okay so, Roman’s were great but why go so far. A couple of years ago, I asked my grandmother how they were eating in the 1950s and 60s and this is what she said: – 

The women of the family used to wake up at wee hours and the first thing they would do is make a huge jug of tea for all of them and elders. This tea was made mostly of pure milk, tea leaves, sugar and was boiled to perfection. After the morning household chores of cleaning, feeding cattle (who had them), and other important duties that varied from family to family, another big jug of the chai was made for everyone in the family. They drank the chai and ate last night’s chapati with salt and would go to the fields (my grandfather was in the Indian Army so it differed in my grannie’s house). The woman who did not go to the field then used to go about their day. Life in a village in Panjab was filled with hard manual work and the meal of simple leftover roti and milk tea would sustain them until late afternoon which is when they would start making dinner for the family. The dinner was simple – chapati with ghee, curd/buttermilk/ curry. In the night, they all drank a glass of warm milk. (Since Panjab was rich in milk, it was common that people loved consuming milk and milk products).

Math lesson

Let us see how much time you invest into this scam 

In general, women take up the role of feeding the family. Let’s do some math, shall we and find out how much time is invested in this “often thankless” job.

It’s 7 am and you have finished your morning cup of tea/ coffee and now you are thinking & planning on breakfast.

Time spent contemplating & asking everyone “what to cook” – 5 to15 minutes

The average cooking time– 30 to 60 minutes

The serving time– 5 to 15 minutes

Eating time– 20 to 30 minutes

Reset the kitchen, do dishes time – 15 to 30 minutes

Total Breakfast time – 75 to 150 minutes

Multiply by three – 225 to 450 minutes which is a minimum of 3.75 hours to 7.5 hours out of 24 hours each day.

How much is that in a week – a minimum of 26.24 hours and a maximum of 52.5 hours.

WOW, this is amazing!

Practical Time

How to simplify & get more time 

It is easier than you think and no, I am not asking you to do intermittent fasting though feel free to do that if your heart desires. It does save time and money. 

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash
  • Share the chores – let us start with the most simple and visible one. Common math is to divide the chores within family members (and not only “designated female candidate”) with each member giving a bit of time which in return will give everyone more time. In our house, we have a method that works for us. If one person makes the food then another person would clean up. Now, do not romanticize this idea as there will be days when you would just not be interested in cleaning after someone cooked. BUT you have to muster the strength and do that as it is the pact. Can you do it? 

Not trying to be feminist here but we are in 2021 and not in the 1930s. Just FYI. 

  • Make extra in lunch – A common complaint my mom always makes is no matter how extra she cooks, it’s not enough for dinner and if you also have the same story then let’s find you a quick tip – store away the extra meal designated for dinner before serving the lunch. Simple! If you are cooking less then you will know it right away.
  • Have leftovers for Lunch – This is what most of the people in urban cities around the world do now. It’s easier and more enjoyable to make one big family meal each day rather than slogging in the kitchen the whole day. Now save the leftovers in containers for the lunch and here you have it – a simple lunch the next day.
  • Have a standard Breakfast – Many famous business tycoons do this. They have the same breakfast each day to avoid having decision fatigue in the morning. In my personal opinion, I have found that when you simplify the meal choices, you will find yourself craving fewer options. That is why I do not get bored of my trusted toast in breakfast. 
  • Go for quick Lunch, if at all needed – When I was in Germany, I noticed that they hardly made lunch in the house. As an Indian, it was very new to me. What they did was if anyone got hungry then they would simply open the fridge and make something very quick for themselves. When I arrived in the USA, I noticed this is what most people were doing here. My husband and I decided to simply eat things that are super quick to make like a sandwich, smoothie, salad for lunch, and make dinner our proper sit-down meal.
  • Have some basic things around the house – Hummus/ Roti/ Dosa Batter/ Cooked brown rice / Bread/ Lettuce / Healthy store brought or home-made dips and salsa / Bulk soup /Avocado/ Fruits/ Peanut Butter & Vegetables? This way during lunch, you can simply put something together rather than eating the same “full meal”.
  • Eat early dinner – If you have a quick bite for lunch then you will be hungry for an early dinner. Do what works for you. We try to have it by 6:30 to 7 pm most days but I know of members from my husband’s family who finish having dinner by 6 pm. When we went to meet my husband’s grandparents in Ohio, we all had dinner by 5:30 – 6:00 pm and it felt great. We both were knocked out at 10:00 pm.

These are the few methods I feel can help you find more “Me-Time”. But you do not have to do any of these. You do not even have to pay attention to the time which is evaporating each day on making and eating food if frankly, this is what you love to do. But if you want more freedom then do something that suits you and if you have more ideas then please let me know in the comments.

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