Do you eat? Does your partner eat? Does your family eat? Do you have to feed them EVERY day? Do you even have to feed them more than once a day? Are you overwhelmed with all the feeding? Are you tired of the cooking and cleaning? Are you stressed about the dishes and crumbly floors and dirty sink?
I don’t have a solution for you.
I do however, have a 12, a 10, and an 8 year old who help in the kitchen. It’s been a huge blessing and a relief since they came “online” (so to speak). My 8 year old son makes breakfast on a pretty regular basis. He wakes up first and he wakes up ravenous, so I taught him some basic foods like oatmeal, Toad-in-a-Hole (also known as Eggs-in-a-Frame), popovers, and scrambled eggs. He struggles with reading, so he needs simple recipes that he can memorize. We’re a home schooling family so we eat at home All. Day. Long. Thankfully he makes lunch occasionally as well.
When he doesn’t step up to the plate (see what I did there?), his older sisters do. They are always concocting in the kitchen. They love to check out new cookbooks or pore over my Taste of Home magazines making menus and meal plans. They would really prefer to make only desserts, preferably an all chocolate diet, but I force them to make healthful foods too.
I also really enjoy cooking (which is good, since they just keep eating!) so it’s equally extremely helpful when my olders keep the one year old OUT of the kitchen.
Here’s what worked for us to get these older ones to this stage:
These kids have been “working” in the kitchen since they were old enough to stand on the step stool and stir. Is it chaotic? Yes. Is it messy? Yes. Is it often a disaster? YES.
Was it worth it? Oh Mylanta! YES YES YES! Learning to cook and bake has numerous benefits besides just being homegrown scullery slaves for me.
They are learning an important life skill.
They learn math and science.
They get to spend time with their mama.
They learn about food and kitchen tool safety.
They get to eat food they’ve created themselves.
They become more independent and confident.
They get to impress people with their mad skills.
They serve others and help the family.
They’re learning how to make healthy choices.
They learn how to save money.
They’ll probably never starve.
Let Them Lead
Just being in the kitchen where I spend a lot of time (and the chance to lick the beater) is a reward enough for them, so I don’t usually have to bribe any of them to come help. They enjoy a chance to spend one on one time with me, and love to see, and taste, the fruits of their labor. However, if someone is having an off day or is in a bad mood, (which never, ever happens, but let’s just pretend it did one time) I don’t push the issue. I know they’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice their skills.
Teach Them to Clean Up
If I let them come in and do all the fun part, and I were left with a massive mess every time they cooked, I would resent it, and never let them cross the threshold again. As it is, I often have to call them back (more than once) and repeat ad nauseum, “Cleaning is part of cooking.” I stay with them as needed. Some kids need more supervision (ahem, reminders) than others. I have a list posted on the fridge of the exact steps that need to be completed before the kitchen is considered clean. Then, when they leave the kitchen and say they are done, I can say, “Let’s just check the list.” And then, when suddenly it’s discovered the counters AND the stovetop are part of the kitchen, it’s the list’s fault, not mine.
I don’t have control issues; let’s just say that I know the very best way to do things. The world would spin on its axis much more smoothly if it did it my way. It has been a hard road to let people drop a dozen eggs on the floor, accidentally push my Pampered Chef baking stone off the counter (good-bye $45) or waste ingredients when the wrong bottle was grabbed (cumin flavored cookies? No, thank you!). I’ve gotten lots of practice saying, “That’s ok. Everybody makes mistakes. Let’s just get a rag.”
If you have ever met a child older than a wrap baby, you may have noticed their life’s mantra is “Do it myself!” The kitchen provides you with lots of chances to let them. You can teach a two year old to pour his own milk. You can let her slice bananas. You can allow him to roll out dough. She can pour in ingredients after you measure it. He can spread peanut butter on toast.
If your kids are older, but haven’t been in the kitchen much, it’s not too late! They can start small too, by making the salad for the meal, or making energy balls. Search Taste of Home.com for recipes with five or fewer ingredients. Simple recipes will provide your older, inexperienced chef with immediate success, a sense of accomplishment and pride, and will keep him coming back for more.
Since everyone in the house keeps coming back to the kitchen for more to eat anyway, they may as well be useful while they’re in there!