I Let My Kids Cook Dinner and We’re All Learning a Lot Along the Way
It's been pretty eye-opening for my little ones and for me.
As the mom of four small kids, dinner at my house goes a little something like this.
Me: (Scrambling around to finish the meal.) You guys, dinner’s almost ready!
9 year old: Okay!
7 year old: (Sits at the table, stares at me for the next 10 minutes. Doesn’t help. Just stares.)
6 year old: But what IS it? MommYYYY. UGH, I don’t like tha-at!
4 year old: (Darts out of the room to put on a Pegasus costume/throw clothes all over her floor.)
Me: Okay, dinner’s ready! Wait, where are you guys? Hello! Dinner!
There’s a mystical force at work most nights, because right around 5:30 p.m. my job as “cook” somehow expands. Now I become an emcee, a party host and a therapist specializing in Dinner Disappointment Syndrome. I don’t know about you, but for me, the hardest part of feeding a family isn’t finding and making the recipes. It’s the complaining! Tired out and frustrated, I decided that was it. My goal for 2019 was to turn that around — no more fussing and complaining from my kids.
And my plan started with a kitchen stool. I was going to get them really involved in the process.
Now, every Sunday afternoon, the kids take turns being the cook. They pick a recipe ahead of time, we grocery shop together, then my tiny cook makes dinner for our family.
Everyone from my preschooler to the fourth-grader has been through the rotation now, and it’s been awesome.
Here’s what we did, starting with the food.
The kids LOVE being the cooks.
They get all the autonomy of choosing the meal — the entree, sides and even dessert. In fact, my first grader likes keeping the whole menu a secret until the big reveal at dinner time. Suspense! But here’s the important part: Every Sunday the cook gets a big dose of practical skills: planning, budgeting, time management and communication.
What about the actual cooking though? Are there knives? Yes. Flames? Yep. Hot ovens too. But I’m in the kitchen the whole time, supervising. Cooking with a 6-year-old kid is quite an experience. But guess what? My little guy who’s going through a whiny phase right now is actually a fun companion in the kitchen. That one-on-one time seems to work wonders. Yes, it takes longer to make dinner, so I clear the schedule for the late afternoon. Everyone else plays elsewhere. But this lesson in concentrating and connecting is totally worth it.
You know what else they’re practicing? Managing disappointment when a meal doesn’t QUITE turn out as well as the cook – or the other diners – had hoped. Life isn’t perfect and there are tons of challenges ahead. Getting negative feedback from people who love you may not be fun, but it’s about as gentle as it gets. Think of it as Constructive Criticism 101.
On the other hand, you’ve never seen a kid beam so much as the one who’s bathed in compliments – or at the very least a chorus of “thank you for dinner!” from their siblings. They feel so important. That experience in service matters.
One month since this started, I’ve got more experienced cooks around the house now, but even better, I’ve got more empathetic diners. Kids who cook are more patient with meals, more open to trying new things and definitely easier on the critical comments — because they know their time in the hot seat is coming soon.
Now my days of begging everyone to come to the table – and to be kind when they get there – are behind me.
Just kidding. We’re still in the thick of it, but trust me, things are getting better all the time, and giving my kids the job of making dinner has been everything on this journey.