In our house, this started out of desperation. I was driving carpool during dinner time every day of the week with one child or the other. And if I had to hear one more complaint about the lack of home-cooked meals, I was going to lose my last marble.
Of course, we all would love homemade meals on the table every night over which we leisurely dine and bond as a family. But most of us also have busy kids who can’t drive and need to go to either voice lessons, swim practice, or so-and-so’s house to work on this week’s group project (don’t even get me started on group projects).
The way our family solved this problem was to get the kids involved in cooking dinner.
- Each kid over the age of 11 is assigned one weeknight. Take a quick look at your family’s schedule, and it will become clear which night is right for each.
- Each must then choose their week’s entrée, veggie, and recipe.
- The night before you usually do your major food shopping for the week, each kid must provide you with a grocery list cross referenced against the contents of the fridge and pantry (to avoid ending up with sixteen bottles of soy sauce).
- On their night, while you are taking your nightly tour of your fair city, that busy bee kid can be home prepping and cooking.
- You arrive home to a meal and a very proud child.
- Now, this may take some supervision at first. You may need to do a couple of simple lessons to teach them how to find meals that are compatible with their skill level and your safety comfort level. But believe me, it is doable. And it will change. Your. LIFE.
The Benefits for Your Kids:
- Shows them how much time and planning it really takes to pull off a meal
- Gives them a significant feeling of accomplishment and pride
- Forces them to learn all the steps of meal preparation from planning to list-making to cooking
- Gives them an opportunity to eat what they like
- Gives them an opportunity to express creativity
- Teaches them how to take a compliment (what they make will be good, and everyone will tell them so)
- Gives them a tangible way to do something for you
The Benefits for You:
- Gives you a break!
- Gives your kids some appreciation for how hard you work
- Allows you to teach your kids something valuable that will serve them the rest of their lives
- Makes you burst with pride at how awesome your kids are
I know. If you are anything like me, you have a million reasons why this is impossible. Let me address them.
- “They’ll make a huge mess and create more work for me.” Well, maybe at first, but we require our kids to tidy as they go. Believe me, this will save you effort in the end.
- “No one will eat what they cook.” Help them start simple. Some beginner ideas are sub sandwiches, french bread/pita/bagel pizza, or french toast. They’ll surprise you!
- “They aren’t mature enough to use a sharp knife or stove top.” There are many meals they can prepare without a sharp knife or pot full of boiling water. But also, they need to learn how to do these things safely. Put in a little time teaching, and soon you’ll trust them to be safe. We are all still 10-fingered over here!
- “It’ll just be one more thing I have to nag them to do.” I was afraid of this. I can only fight so many battles. But my kids took the ball and ran with it. This is the only chore that is associated with no nagging in our house, I’m sorry to report.
A Potential Shortcut:
You know those meal kits that are so popular right now? Blue Apron, Sun Basket, Hello Fresh, etc. Well, there is one made for kid cooks!
There are a couple that deliver “kid-friendly” kits. You could do the first couple with your kids, let them do a couple by themselves, and then, voila! They’d have a gradual introduction and end up with some recipes they know how to make. You could then have them replay those recipes without the kits. I even think the kits not made for kids would work well.
Our girls have made chicken pot pie, grilled cheese with tomato soup, pasta and salad, chicken broccoli casserole, broccoli cheese soup and bread, zucchini noodles, chicken noodle soup, ravioli casserole, grilled burritos, mini calzones, and so much more!
Some parenting experts say that we shouldn’t do for kids what they can do for themselves. This household doesn’t strictly run like that, but in the case of family meals, I strongly feel that every capable member should contribute.
Now, go break the news to your budding chefs!
Have you tried this? Do you plan to? Let me know how it goes!
QUESTION: What are the busiest days in your week where you could schedule help in the kitchen?
CHALLENGE: Sit down this week and identify what kitchen skills your kids already know or which ones you can teach them to help them contribute to meal preparation. This can start when kids are even very young, like with washing or peeling vegetables, setting the table, etc.
Edited by Sarah Monson and Nollie Haws.
Image provided by the author.