My daughter and I love to spend time together in the kitchen. We started doing this when she was very young and it makes up some of my most favorite moments. I have the best memories of her as a little girl (about 4 or 5) helping me prepare for our big Thanksgiving Meal for family and friends. She liked assisting me while I cooked, but also wanted to be in charge of something that she could do on her own. She was already reading pretty well and so I decided to make a big, long list of every ingredient we would need from the pantry, the spice rack, and the fridge and have her set it out on our kitchen island. She absolutely loved doing this and set about doing it very enthusiastically. She had the spices all lined up, the canned goods grouped together neatly and didn’t miss a single thing. It was truly a beautiful thing she accomplished and she was so proud of herself. We still do this Thanksgiving ritual together to this day, and she still loves doing it. She also looks forward to the cooking part, but there is something about a solo victory that’s uniquely satisfying.
Sometime ago I began to train her to cook simple things for herself as well as for the family: a grilled cheese sandwich, an omelet, French toast, a quesadilla, pancakes. She is also becoming quite the little baker as well. This has been great training and preparation but, I also wanted her to be able to plan an entire meal with a budget, and then shop for the ingredients on her own, and finally prepare the meal and share it with her family. I know this sounds simple, but frankly I know of many children her age, as well as some teenagers, who aren’t able to confidently even make ramen noodles and this can be quite problematic.
The first time we walked through it together and we started out on Pinterest looking for fun and simple recipes to try. (You can find my Pinterest boards here.) Then we searched for a delicious dessert and we were ready to make the list. I looked over the ingredients required and, after determining what we already had, I assigned her budget – this was usually $5 (if we had the protein) or $10 if we didn’t. She would write everything down and we would assign an assumed dollar amount to it, totaling to the budget amount. I would have her put this list in an envelope along with the money I gave her to shop with. She loved having the responsibility of being in charge of this process and became more confident as time went on.
The next step was on to the local grocery store and I chose one that had a self-checkout lane because I wanted her to do as much by herself as possible – she really LOVED this part! We went through the aisles and she picked out the ingredients, choosing the best value and taking note of whether it was roughly over or under the budget for it. We went in the order of ingredient importance and learned to adjust amounts or ingredients where necessary (broccoli is on sale instead of asparagus, so substitute). Next we would head to the checkout line where she scanned or keyed in information, bagged items, and finally paid. She always came in under budget, usually less than a dollar, but it was a significant psychological victory. She would put the receipt and the change into the envelope for the following week when she could use the overage if necessary (she rarely needed it). At the end of the quarter (we would do this seasonally), she would get to keep the difference, which was usually only a few dollars at most, but she was so proud of her accomplishment she took great care in how she spent it.
Finally, we would bring the ingredients home and she would set about to prepare them. I helped much more at first, teaching her how to safely cut and cook things. In the beginning I only let her make things such as casseroles, soups or sauces that didn’t require high heat sautéing or frying. She has made many things and each of them has been delicious and greatly enjoyed by our family. She beams with a sense of achievement & self-assurance that I believe will prove priceless in her life. She is learning so many values and skills, one of the most important being the satisfaction of serving others.
I encourage you to try this with your kids, because I think even resistant ones will find that they enjoy it. It is a good way to engage picky eaters to try new things and gain a sense of empowerment over things that may unsettle them. This is easily converted into as simple of a mission as you’d like it to be, according to age, enthusiasm and ability. You can just have them decide on what to serve for a snack – strawberries, crackers & cheese, hummus and snap peas – whatever. You can make a list together, have them put the items in the cart, take them home, wash & prepare them, plate them and serve them to the family. Trust me, they will love doing it! When my daughter was younger we would use fruits and veggies to make silly faces on a plate. We would use grape eyes, a strawberry nose and a banana smile. Sometimes we would use goldfish crackers, cucumbers, celery, carrots and tomatoes to make an under-the-sea scene. It is so much fun to cook with your kids and so rewarding and delicious in every way!