Food is a huge part of family life for us. Really huge. All of us have so many memories attached to meals, or specific foods. It started as I was growing up and would come home to warm cookies and milk after school, or cocoa and toast at the end of a long week. Often my mom would make something yummy so that I would stay and talk. It took me a long time to realize that was why she cooked so much, but I admit I have adopted that same strategy. I would often bake bread and serve it with apple butter as my boys came home with their buddies. It made for a kitchen full of happy, chatty young men. Great fun!
One of the smartest things my husband and I did as we were raising our family was to assign each person a night when they were in charge of dinner starting when they were 7 or 8 years old. This included both meal planning and food preparation. A parent would cook with them as they were learning, and by the time they were 10 or so, they could take over an entire cooked-from-scratch meal. That ability freed me up to fold the mountain of laundry on the couch, plan for the coming day, or just sit and read. When they left for college, they took their own basic kitchen equipment and cook books with them and they actually knew how to use them!
Cooking with children does require a modicum of common sense and a bit of patience. Don’t start them off with sharp knives or frying oil, rather let them help plan the menu, wash vegetables and fruits, stir batters, and measure ingredients. Learning to use a timer or a rubber spatula, buttering bread with softened butter, and licking the beaters can be done by a young child. As their small muscle control develops, teach them the basics of correct knife skills using sharp knives and lots of ADULT SUPERVISION. They can also learn to read a recipe, knead dough, use a rolling pin and stand mixer, and control heat on the stove as they are ready. The payoff? Having four teenagers capable of cooking one night a week!
Here are some of our favorite ideas for simple meals to start:
Grilled cheese and vegetable strips (using a choice of breads/cheeses)
Spaghetti with salad and bread (homemade sauce)
Mac-n-cheese, spam, and applesauce
Tuna noodle casserole with peas and corn
Beef roast with carrots and potatoes
Stew and biscuits/cornbread
Each of my children now cook for their own households. My still single university student cooks for his roommates, and has even cooked for a few dates! Some enjoy cooking more than others, but they all are competent and can provide a healthy, well-rounded meal for themselves and others.
And when they come home for Sunday dinners and holidays, you’ll find us in the kitchen surrounded by pots, pans, cutting boards, and delicious food!