Cooking with kids is so annoying. It takes a lot of energy for set up, during, and most of all clean up. Why even bother? They never eat what I make anyways, so why involve them in the process? These are all valid feelings and questions but I am going to try and convince you to join me in letting your children be your sous chefs. Give your son that knife and let your daughter crack those eggs. Here is why I believe all the pain is well worth it.
My children are 3 and 2. They are a handful. They become even more whinney and needy during the hours of 4-7pm. How am I supposed to make dinner with two monkeys crying and hitting eachother at my feet. My first responce has always been, TV!! That wonderful thing that distracts them and keeps them away from my body while I make family and myself my only (hopefully) hot meal of the day. We do not watch TV often. So, it is a treat. It worked wonderfully. Then as soon as dinner was ready it was off and they were at the dinner table ready to eat.
How can someone be soooo hungry and yet not eat what is right in front of them? “I want Cheeeerrrrriiiiiooooooooooossssss!!!!!” came the scream from my daughters mouth! “I will just eat the meat, mom.” Says my son. The fine print of this statement is that he will eat the meat as long as it is not too chewy, too salty, too hot, too spicy, and smothered in ketchup. But not too much ketchup.
Arghhhh. This was our dinner time. Every day. Same old whining and same old anger coming from both my husband and I. I dreaded dinner. I just wanted to feed my children kraft dinner (no ketchup!) and send them to bed so my husband and I could eat our amazing dinner in peace.
I decided to try something. We needed a new plan.
For the past 3 weeks I have been getting both my children to help make dinner. They get a stool and a dinner knife and I involve them in all the sauce making, veggie cutting and table setting parts of making dinner. Then when the meal is finished cooking it is their job to help me plate all the meals and bring them to the table. We call it “Fancy Feast” Then we all sit down and by the end of the meal everyones plate is clean and the ketchup has not made its appearance even once.
It has really been as simple as that.
They are now apart of making the food they get to eat. My husband comes home and “oohs and ahhhs” over how amazing everything looks and their smiles couldn’t be any bigger.
I know I am not the first person to think this up. I am also not the only mom who does this. But maybe, just maybe, some one out there has found themselves in the same boat as I was and just needs a boost of encouragement or a fresh idea of how to solve this dilemma.
We do have a few rules that we use in the kitchen that have helped me control the chaos that cooking with kids brings.
1. calm bodies (I actually put on classical music. I use Songza “Mellow Cello”)
2. Knives stay on the cutting board! (They each get their own cutting board and dinner knife to cut with and a little bowl to put the stuff they are finished cutting in it.)
3. Sample as much veggies as you want. (this week their favorite has been Yellow Peppers and Raw Broccoli)
4. Only mommy touches the stove. (They have a special spot they stand in when I open and close the oven. They stay in it until I say “Where are my chefs?”)
5. pick up whatever you drop on the floor and put it in the “Garbage Bowl” (I keep a big baking bowl on the counter for garbage)
It is actually fun. I have been really enjoying it. It has allowed me to talk with them about the importance of what kind of food we put in our body. I have had so many awesome conversations with my son about how are bodies are like Cars and we need to put the right fuel in them to make them work best. (he is such a boy) These conversations have lead to how our body works and what it means when we get sick and what it means when we are tired. It is pretty fun watching his little brain process this all as he munches away on a carrot stick. I also do not care what they eat at dinner now. It is a lot stressful. I know that they are eating a ton of veggies during prep time and that any they actually eat at dinner are just a bonus.
My children take such pride in all they do. Whether it is a picture they have drawn or a new dance move they just made up. Why not let them take pride in what they eat?
I still deal with the begging for cheerios but now I am never tempted to give in. I know she is not hungry. She just loves cheerios. Telling her Cheerios are for when she wakes up in the morning is starting to make a little more sense to her. Dinner is when she cooks.
It is not a perfect system. But it is working great so far. Next week it will all explode in my face and I will be writing a retraction on this same subject!
Good luck figuring out those kiddos of yours. Please share your ideas. What has worked? What has flopped? Looking forward to some of your ideas.
p.s We also give our children the same knives and forks we use at dinner. They both cut up their own food! it is amazing! also a lot more relaxing for us and I enjoy my hot meal for once in my life!