This Thanksgiving, I have decided to invite my kids, ages five and two, to be the sous chefs. We had a little impromptu practice session yesterday, and it went way better than I expected. In fact, I think this holiday represents a major turning point for us, and it can for you and your kids as well, if you are also looking to make a change in your routines.
Let me quickly explain what I mean. I had gotten into the habit of letting my kids hang out on the couch and watch a show for a half hour when it came time to cook lunch or dinner, just so I could have some peace and quiet. Can you relate? Maybe your kids aren’t watching a show on the couch, but are they playing on an iPad or checked out on their phone while you are in the kitchen?
It wasn’t always like this in our family– I used to happily involve my older son in the daily cooking tasks. Here he was at age two, shelling peas.
Then along came my youngest, who had colic, and cooking had to happen around his naptimes, if he slept at all. At that point I just wanted the time to myself (or with my husband) to get things done efficiently and have a minute to breathe. Instead of involving my eldest in the cooking on a day to day basis, I started to only invite him in for special projects.
But now my youngest is two himself and has mellowed out a bit, so yesterday he made his culinary debut in a little pre-Thanksgiving experiment. It was just me and the boys for Sunday lunch, and we cooked it together. On the menu: buckwheat penne pasta with ragu Bolognese (which I made the day before) and cavolo nero (black kale). I took some pictures on the fly, so please excuse the pjs and iPhone photography.
I already knew my eldest liked to strip kale from the ribs, but had no idea how much my youngest would enjoy it and actually be able to do it.
He was also happy to work with his brother to peel the garlic and smash it with a mortar and pestle.
Then together they weighed the pasta and grated the Parmesan cheese (though my youngest ate it faster than my oldest could grate it.)
In fact, they flew through those tasks so fast that I started them in on some prep for last night’s dinner, their lunches for the week, and even a few things for Thanksgiving that I already had in the fridge or in the garden.
They pulled the outer leaves off of the Brussel sprouts, picked rosemary off of the stems, sorted through lentils (though this was probably more mess for me than it was worth), cut cucumbers and peppers, snapped florets off of the broccoli stalk, and chopped ginger with a pull chopper.
They had so much fun that my youngest kept saying “more jobs” after I ran out of things for him to do. And my eldest said “this was the best morning ever.” And the proof of the benefits of their involvement was in the pudding: as they worked, they snacked on raw broccoli, peppers, and cucumbers. And at the table, they ate all of their cavolo nero.
Research shows that the more the kids help with the shopping, prep, and cooking, the more likely they are to eat what is served. For this reason, I am especially a big fan of having them help with the fruits and vegetables. If they accept and enjoy the vegetables, fruits, and healthy main dishes, they are less likely to overdo it with snacks or desserts.
And beyond fostering healthy eating, cooking together as a family creates a forum for engagement. Everyone sets down devices (kids, teens, and parents too), works together with their hands, and has a chance to connect.
I know what you might be thinking as you read this – it seems like a lot of extra effort and potential mess for you to get the kids involved. But if you pick tasks that your kids can succeed at, you might be surprised at how much they can contribute.