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You guys. Having my kids in the kitchen stresses me out. And I have three small children. Who absolutely LOVE cooking with mom. Another instance where my deepest desires do not match up with theirs.
I’ve been pushing myself in this area recently. Trying to find a way of teaching these kids how to cook without it ending in a shouting mom pulling her hair out by the roots.
It’s not just about the life skill of cooking, though it is about that. I still feel like I’m learning my way around a kitchen, like I’m woefully behind in this essential talent that all the other “real” grown-ups have. We don’t starve or anything, but I always feel like I’m faking it, throwing some stuff in a pot and hoping that I followed the recipe correctly.
I want my kids to feel confident in the kitchen, not sheepish at every meal. So much of our lives is spent around a table. With three meals per day plus snacks, so much of our time as a family is spent over food. So much of their lives is going to be spent eating with friends, serving dinner to their date, bringing a dish to a potluck, feeding their own kids, that’s a lot of time to spend hoping no one gags or gets food poisoning.
Teaching them to cook is a LITTLE bit about me NOT wanting to cook as soon as possible. I mean, I have three children. With three able-bodied additions to our family, Nathan and I should be able to sip wine and read novels by the fire while all our meals are lovingly prepared (or begrudgingly, I don’t really care how you feel, just feed me) by our offspring.
Okay. Not realistic when they are ages 3 and 5. I get that, but EVENTUALLY, they should be able to cook for us. And clean up afterward. Maybe even do the shopping beforehand. That will be a glorious day indeed.
More than anything, inviting them in the kitchen with me is about their hearts. It’s about all the unspoken, intangible things that cooking and baking impart. A sense of ownership and gratitude over one’s food. Understanding the work and care poured into meals, valuing the food that has been provided and experiencing the God’s blessing and provision with all your senses, joining Him in the work of feeding His children.
Cooking with kids is about investing in a legacy, a generational story of fellowship and love. Food is gloriously multi-sensory. The preparation of it requires touch and sight and smell and taste. The enjoyment of it requires the same. Standing next to my kiddos, hands deep in dough, inhaling the flour and spices, sneaking a lick, watching as the consistency approaches perfecting, the heaviest sensory experience is of them. Snatching mental pictures of their smiles, the scent of their hair, the softness of their tiny fingers, the taste of their sweet kisses. Hearing their laughter and questions, and saving the sound of their tiny voices erupting with excitement.
Having my kids in the kitchen is stressful no doubt. It’s definitely not a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s twins pushing and brother yelling and Katie, occasionally, biting whoever tries to steal her measuring cup. It’s flour all over the floor just after I swept up from snack, and vegetable oil spilled all over the counter with an “oops. I spilled, but it’s okay.” Oh, really?! I’m glad you feel okay about it.
But if I’m going to make this work, if I’m going to make memories and teach skills and instill gratitude and invest in training myself out of a job, I need to power through. I need to make it a priority. I need to believe in the benefits and intentionally work it into our lives. I’ve also learned something about myself. If my kids are ever going to learn how to cook, I need help.
I’ve tried to just “let them help me.” This is the worst. They make a huge mess and fight over utensils, and I get angry and end up kicking everyone out. Exactly the family memories I’m hoping to plant. “Remember how mom used to lose her marbles every time we ‘helped with dinner?'” Awesome.
I’ve tried to plan a teaching time where the whole purpose is just to instruct and have fun. This sounds good in theory, but never turns out in practice. My kids think they know everything. Emma keeps telling me she’s going to “do it to myself.” Will keeps shoving my hand away quietly. Katie just throws utensils on the floor and pouts. They SAY they want to cook. They SAY they want to cook with ME. They even ASK me to TEACH them, but when mom actually does any correction or instruction, they just do their own thing. Because apparently I don’t know anything about anything.
These experiences always make me put it off. I’ll make sure my kids can cook before they leave for college. It’s fine. I have plenty of time. I’ll wait to teach them how to cook when they are older, more mature, more willing to listen and obey. But what I know in my heart is that I’m missing opportunities now. I’m missing memory making moments. I’m missing the chance to instill confidence. In my “waiting for it to get easier,” I’m just waiting for the impossible while these precious days of childhood drip down the drain.
So I came up with a plan:
- Schedule cooking class during their happiest time of day
My kids are happiest and most attentive right after breakfast. While they are eating, I get things organized for a lesson. I get out the ingredients, clear off any clutter, pull out the kitchen helper kids stools for them to stand on, and their special aprons and Curious Chef cooking utensils. I’m fresh from a night of sleep and cup(s) of coffee, and they are well-rested and well-fed, ready to participate with the least likelihood of a meltdown. Fingers crossed.
I had to set aside my pride and recognize that my kids need to hear these lessons from someone else to believe them. Since I don’t have a personal chef, and don’t have the money to pay for the live cooking classes I found around town, I was on the lookout for something we could do together at home. I totally SCORED when I found Kids Cook Real Food. I set up the iPad on the counter, and we watch the lesson together. There are printables to help me reinforce the skills. She uses language the kids can understand (set up for different ages at their level).
The best part is, if my kids start to misbehave, push my hands away, make bad choices, I can say, “that’s not how Miss Katie did it, is it?” They might not believe mom, but “Miss Katie” is on a screen and teaching a class of kids like them. Mom gets to facilitate the lesson, following along with a “real expert,” and we still get the benefits of spending time together in the kitchen building memories and learning skills. Everybody wins.
- Take pictures when everyone is happy. So you can remember that everyone was happy… once.
The other nice thing about having Kids Cook Real Food do the initial instruction is that I get to step back and capture the moment. I’ve found that I remember things more fondly (even than I should based on reality) if I take pictures when everyone is the most happy. I usually step back while Miss Katie (Katie Kimball of Kitchen Stewardship) is explaining the lesson, to snap a few pictures of my little angels. Later in the day, when flour is all over the floor and oil is all over the counter, I can look at the pictures and remember there WERE moments of wonder. It WAS all worth it.
- Plan a “reward” activity for immediately afterward.
We often have trouble transitioning out of cooking. The kids just want to stay in the kitchen forever, but mom is ready to move on (i.e. I’m about to lose my mind.) I learned after a couple of these lessons that if I have a “reward” activity ready, even if just in my mind to make the suggestion, everyone is super excited to stop cooking and move on to the next fun thing. “Let’s go paint in the bathtub!”
“Let’s go paint in the bathtub!”
“Guess what?! It’s time to walk to the park!”
“Alright, let’s clean up, so we can watch a show!” (Don’t judge me.)
I’ve been super on top of it and had crafts ready and waiting. Other times, I’ve just randomly chosen something easy to get everyone out of the kitchen with as little fuss as possible (Miss Frizzle to the rescue).
I really, really, REALLY want to cook with my kids more often, but the truth is, it’s exhausting. I have to constantly remind myself of the whys. To teach skills. To make memories. To build confidence. To instill gratitude and responsibility. To shape character. To express my love and show my attention. But without some help, without some sort of plan, it just ain’t gonna happen. I’m too lazy. Too sick of messes to make a mess on purpose. Too tired of tantrums and fighting to invite the opportunity for more. So I’m doing my best to make the process of teaching them how to cook as stress-free as possible. Which also includes extra coffee and chocolate for mom, because parenting.