By Robert M. Loeb, Certified PEP Parent Educator
Recently I wrote an article for Washington Parent about what a great place the kitchen is for parents—you can give your kids high-quality, positive attention and they get to experience the pride of accomplishment and contributing to the family, all while learning to build a salad or scramble an egg. I wrote about this because the kitchen was also where I learned to let go of the “right” way of doing things (my way) and instead allow my children to become responsible, creative, independent family chefs.
I used to be a great school lunch maker. I would pack lunches with delicious sandwiches, yogurts, healthy snacks, freshly cut carrot sticks, fruit and treats. The trouble was the lunches were usually only partly eaten—that is, if the kids remembered to even take them to school. And then came the complaints: “I don’t like my sandwich cut that way.” “I don’t like apple juice.” “I don’t like that brand of yogurt anymore,” etc.
When kids complain, it’s time to train. Their whining was a sign, not that they needed gratitude training (well, maybe) but a sign that I needed to get out of the lunch-making business and empower my three children—then in first, third and fifth grades—to make their own lunches.
We set up ground rules about what should go into a lunch: at least one protein source and one snacky item. Then the kids brainstormed lunch ideas. Finally I took them shopping to buy the food they selected. The youngest needed a little training on how to spread cream cheese, but soon all three were self-sufficient.
The results were pretty amazing and quick. The kids wanted the lunches they made. They put in much less food than I would, but they actually ate it. And they always remembered to take their lunches in the morning. Making the lunches themselves inspired them to care in a way they would never care about the “fabulous” lunches I used to prepare for them.
As with lunch, so with dinner. The key to having your child embrace cooking at home is to give him or her real ownership over the meal, or at least part of it. Involve the child in helping to plan the meal. Our kids love to search for and choose meals online. We use a great meal-planning website, The Six O’clock Scramble, run by D.C. native Aviva Goldfarb. After the kids help pick out dinners for the week, the site generates recipes and a shopping list to print out. This not only saves our family a lot money, it gives the kids a sense of ownership over their dinners, making it much more likely that they will want to help prepare and eat the meals.
How about you? What are your kids learning to make in the kitchen? Inspire other parents by leaving a comment.