With a family of ten, and a couple of friends over at anytime, you can imagine that keeping everyone fed is really like feeding a small army. It is endless, as one meal finishes and we begin preparing the next one. The task is way too big for just one person. My kids have had to learn to cook as we go along and of course there have been mistakes, we eat those too, and there have been successes, that we thrive on. The one question I get asked a lot is how do I get my kids cooking in the kitchen… the question I have to ask is how do I not? My kids are always hanging around looking for food to eat, and if I am in the kitchen… they see it as an opportunity for something to snack on, and I see it as an opportunity for someone to help me. It’s a win, win.
In the last year or two I have taken delegating to new levels, basically so that I can go for an evening run, or I can give a quick maths lesson to a neighbour… or work on a blog post. I firmly believe that being part of a family is a team sport, we all have to work together to keep this ship running. Not to mention, that as my kids get older it becomes more and more important that they are able to feed themselves and their families. These are essential life skills and totally worth spending time on. I thought I would share how our kids have become involved in “the food chain.”
Se7en Ideas to Get Your Kids Cooking
- Have a Menu Plan: When you have a plan it is easy to slot kids into tasks. The thing is to break your meal plan down into doable tasks. Your children can probably cut and chop vegetables at the table beside you, even the tiniest children will enjoy washing lettuce. It takes a little bit longer to train them, but the pay off is huge. If there is a job you are doing that you aren’t letting your kids do, because you can do it quicker, better, faster… take a breathe, spend an afternoon and train your kids to do it properly. I popped our meal plan below this list, so that you can see how our kids get involved in the kitchen.
- Make it a Right of Passage: When they are small they have small jobs, as they get older they become responsible for entire meals. There are a few meals that I never even think about anymore. Most of my kids started by helping with lunch and vegetable prep. I would top and tail carrots and they would peel them. Even small folk can make a light cross on top of a potato and sprinkle it with salt and a dash of olive oil, a tray of those and boom you have lunch. Once they can do vegetables they can make a salad for dinner, or do all the preparations for pizza toppings. Anyone can grate cheese and they all love making rolls… I make the bread dough, they roll their own rolls. Once they can manage vegetables and salad easily, move on to fruity deserts. Baked apples, simply require coring and a sprinkle of raisins, or even apple crumble. From desserts they move on to main meal. Making dinner is the ultimate goal… I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like at least planning a feast.
- Have a Food Adventure: We always have a cook book on the coffee table, and we all pour over them. Sometimes we even work through a cookbook. We recently reviewed Jamie Oliver’s Italy… we might have reviewed se7en recipes, but my kids are still working their way through the book and trying out recipes as they go. You want to pick a cookbook that has main meals as well as treats… Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks are great for this because he is always teaching and doesn’t assume any previous knowledge. Otherwise look for a fun cook book, DK Books have great cook books that say they are for kids, but are actually filled with fabulous family friendly food. Pick a book, start at the beginning and cook your way through it… you don’t have to cook every recipe, just most of them. If everybody hates something skip it and move on, don’t be precious, it will get splashed on, it will get flour between the pages and it will store up memories.
- Never Underestimate the Power of Tea Time: Clearly I haven’t been baking enough, because my kids recently started Saturday afternoon family tea time. And the point is they do everything. They take it in turns, they pick and choose and change their minds all week long. What begins as grand and expensive plans on Monday is slowly whittled down to something reasonable on Saturday. It doesn’t have to cost the earth, it can be as easy as sliced apples or meringues(!). It really can be anything at all, some kids take all day preparing and others bring a slab of chocolate to the table. Whatever they do is fine… and I just have to get there.
- Breakfast is a Meal as Well: For years my kids ate oats for breakfast. And then they didn’t. NOT AT ALL. So for a while we floundered with breakfast, until I sat down and made a plan: Two mornings a week, Hood 7 (age 10) makes muffins, two mornings a week Hood 8 (age 9) makes pancakes, two mornings a week we have eggs on toast… that leaves one morning for “helping yourself.” So Hood 8 is the master of pancakes… I leave him to it – yes it can be a mess (!!!), but he makes a fine pancake… yes there were flops, but not a lot. I turn a blind eye while he is busy, and really you have to wipe the counters down after you cook anyway, it doesn’t matter much if its a small mess to wipe or a big mess… you still have to clean up. And for muffins, I look out for muffin mixes on special to get my kids started. You know, add an egg and half a cup of oil, and so on… to begin with I measure the ingredients out for them and they just have to put it together. As they get better, they want to include other ingredients and get more adventurous, and they can leave the “mixes” behind. But for now, I have a couple of mixes on the shelf and Hood 7 (age 10), loves to get up first and make muffins for breakfast.
- Get Busy or Break an Arm: The downside of kids in the kitchen is… the mess. But with cooking responsibilities, come cleaning responsibilities arise. The more complicated you get in the kitchen the bigger the clean up!!! I used to think, shame these kids must get to bed, I’ll clean up after dinner. The fact that my teenagers were staying up later than I was, completely slipped past me. Until I broke my arm. That was it, I could do nothing and someone else had to do the job. I have two kids on lunch duty and two on dinner duty and they alternate days. I do check on their cleaning up and I do call them back if the job is not done properly. But it pretty much rolls over and I don’t think about cleaning up after a meal, ever. That being said, I do like to clean up as I go when I am cooking… so all meals begin by filling a basin with soapy water… and we start most of our meals with the prep dishes already washed.
- Your Kids Will Not Starve To Death Ever: There comes a time when you have to just say… you are making dinner and they actually will be able to do that. Like totally. When my kids were younger and we had to go out, remember we have a house full of teenagers now. I would prepare everything in advance and leave instructions and blah blah blah… boring mother person. Now I let them know that they will be doing dinner on a particular night, they can plot and plan it, they can make the decisions and even better, if they don’t like the ingredients that are available, they can actually buy the ingredients they need themselves. Yes, they go shopping for the ingredients (the younger ones with the father person)… because a meal begins long before it lands on the table. You will be surprised with what they come up with… No, I don’t know why nobody has thought of an ice-cream dinner… in fact they always choose to make something healthy and genuinely good meals.
Our Rough Meal Plan in Se7en Days.
So I mentioned in the list above how we do breakfast… and for lunch we usually eat a rainbow of fruit/salad… and bread. We make our own bread everyday. (Until bread packaging improves I just refuse to buy store bought bread.) If it is cold we will have rice or baked potatoes. In fact, we have a thing called rice week… and that’s at the end of some months… when whatever vegetables left over from the month and herbs and well anything really… can be turned into some sort of a stir fry thing. That’s rice week. Everybody knows a rice week when they see it. Nobody complains, they know that it all balances out over time and their tummies will be full.
- Mondays: On Mondays we make a batch of mince, tons of vegis (carrots, cabbage, courgettes, onions, whatever) and tomato cans… a little bit of mince has to go a very long way in our house. We usually create two or three meals from that and freeze two of them. My older kids have all spent Monday nights doing this for the longest time, and right now, it is Hood 6’s (age 12) task.
- Tuesdays: Used to be mac’ncheese night, but over the last year or two it has become Hood 1’s responsibility. I don’t mind what ends up on the table, I don’t even think about it. Sometimes we have fantastic quiches, sometimes parathas. I do like if something green comes with it, some salad just makes it “extra” for me. But he shops, he cooks and we feast!!!
- Wednesday: My mom-in-law comes for dinner, she likes her roasts… So I ususualys roast chicken pieces, and then roast vegetables… a tray of plain roast potatoes and a tray of mixed roast veg (Carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut and so on). Hood 7 (age 10) makes the roast vegetables… and she gets to make dessert as well, on the only night we have dessert.
- Thursday: We usually try something new, from a cook book we are reviewing or something we have seen in the week that we want to try out. I think it is important to try new flavours and learn new skills… it keeps things interesting and it gets everyone involved in the process.
- Friday: Was burger night for years, but my kids all have activities on Friday night and the cooking in relays, and massive cleanup was not working… now I make what my call “Fake Lasagne.” With a frozen mince meal made on the Monday, I add pasta and top it with white sauce… then they can each take and heat what they want to eat and the last person cleans up.
- Saturday: Is a good night for burgers or stirfry, something that the Father Person wants to cook… he likes cooking and I am happy to give him the weekend shift.
- Sunday: Is Pizza night, I make the pizza base in the afternoon when all the big kids head out for church and then I spend the evening pottering until they get home… when we roll out the pizzas and keep them really simple, because with pizzas less is really more, so just a tomato base sauce, mozzarella and something green… basil or spinach or baby tomatoes… some veg on top.
I realised when I started this post that I had lots to write about… ask me questions and I will be happy to answer them. Meanwhile, I am thinking maybe we need a post on super easy recipes that kids can make on their own. That’s it, our feasting game, in a blog post, giving them the survival skills they will need one day when they launch out into the world.