Holiday Cooking with Children

Last thanksgiving I was dreading having the children home for ten days of vacation from school. Why? I don’t know, it probably had something to do with feeling the need to “entertain” them and keep them busy. But one day before school let up for the holiday I had an idea.
Let the kids cook during the holiday!

Jeff made turkey tenders from scratch!


I had been wanting to teach much more in depth the cooking skills that I have mastered after many years of effort. The children have always helped me in the kitchen. But to have complete responsibility? My daughters are getting older, and my oldest only has a few more years at home. So I set up a plan where the children would each have two days of meal planning, shopping, and cooking. I told them I would do all cleanup.
What happened is really a miracle.
Our holiday sizzled with excitement and upbeat fun as the children poured over recipe books, internet food web sites (Food network consistently had the best recipes). The kids loved the excitement of trying a new recipe and seeing if anyone liked what they had to offer.
I really noticed an increase of love in our home and each child learned from one degree to another the principle that when we lovingly prepare food for our family, it is one of the greatest offerings of service possible.
We repeated the experiment over the christmas holiday, also with much success.
And during the summer we had one whole month of homemaking skills. Each child had a whole week of menu planning and cooking, being in charge of the laundry, responsibility for tending a toddler, and household chores.
The month long experiment was a little less “fun”. We had several bouts of frustrated crying. Certain children were reduced to tears when no one wanted to eat the food that they had prepared (except Mom and Dad), or overwhelm kicked in, or the deadline for the laundry was looming and they had procrastinated and only finished one load.

I really tried to back away and let them learn by their own experience how difficult it is to keep a home running smoothly. We gave a twenty dollar bonus to whichever child could do all of the laundry for the week, and have it folded, hung up in the closets properly, beds remade wity clean sheets, and socks matched and put away. Not one child had the gumption to do it. It was just too big of a job. But how wonderful to have them learn that fact. My daughters have been much more proactive about doing their own laundry this year, and all whining and complaining have stopped (well, mostly) about not having anything clean to wear.
My daughter Allison said that she had no idea how difficult it was to wash all the clothes, cloth diapers, sheets, towells, and cleaning cloths. And I felt much more respect from all of the children in all areas of our home life, as they realized the many tasks I was “supposed” to accomplish each day.
This year I decided that the children would again do the cooking for this holiday season, and Paul would make our thanksgiving supper. It has been refreshing for me these past four days to relax and not worry about the shopping, meal planning, and cooking. Paul took all of the children to the store on friday night to purchase the ingredients for our meals this week. Allison did saturday and sunday’s meals and Jeff has been cooking up a storm these past two days.
Jeff made quite possibly the best french toast I have EVER eaten yesterday. He found the recipe on Emerils web site. The bread was supposed to be a baguette, but Jeff decided to make a loaf in our bread machine the night before (the kids earn points for using food storage in their meal planning). He used the fresh bread with this amazing mix of cinnamon, eggs, cream, sugar, and salt, and slow cooked it. The most wonderful aromas started calling me to breakfast…and we all enjoyed the delicious meal he planned.
I’ll take a few pictures later in the week to share more of what the children did. Granted our grocery budget is blown out of the water when the children do the shopping, and we have dessert every day, sometimes twice a day. Premiums are put on frozen foods that just need to be reheated. (Allison made sweet and sour chicken with rice for our sunday lunch. The chicken was from the frozen food section and just needed to be cooked in the oven) Cold cereal (which I rarely purchase) and potato chips round out the diet, and marshmallows are everywhere in fruit salads, rice crispie treats, and sweet potato casserole.
I told the kids they could use any prepared foods they wanted, and really cook whatever they desired. They could offer the family cold cereal three times a day if need be, but that they would have to live with any complaints generated by lack of preparation and effort.
I’m pleased that they mostly have taken this very seriously and have put some quality time into preparing menus and shopping with lists. During the summer, I plan to give them a budget and take these lessons to the next level. But for now they are learning powerful lessons that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
When I was nine I informed my mother that I wanted to cook lunch for our large family of nine (my baby sister was not born yet). I am a middle child, born after three brothers. I have three little sisters, and a younger brother.
Mom asked me what I wanted to make, and I told her I would cook Macaroni and Cheese. She gave me a dollar and I rode on my bike down to the grocery story to purchase three boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese.
I will never forget my first pasta experience. I put all the pasta, cheese mix, and COLD water in the big cooking pot and turned the heat up to high. It a couple minutes a horrifying scent started wafting over the whole house. Burned pasta, nasty cheese smell etc…
My mom told me that she would clean the pot while I road my bike down to the store to get some more mac and cheese. I remember seeing the same sales clerk and him making some stupid comment about “Wow, you sure do like macaroni and cheese” when I bought the food.
This time I actually read the box which told me I needed to boil the water first. So I waited until that water was boiling and then I threw the macaroni and the cheese mix into the water to cook.
I realized my mistake after I drained the beautifully cooked pasta. Oh, this is when I need to add in the cheese mix, after the pasta is drained.
Once more I road my bike to the store to purchase three more boxes of Mac and Cheese (Snarky checkout guy was wise enough not to say anything) while Mom cleaned the pot and started the water boiling. I don’t know how she had the patience and wisdom to let me learn by my own mistakes, but she did and I will never forget it.
This time I cooked the pasta correctly, added in the final ingredients with the cheese mix and offered this hot and tasty meal to my hungry brothers and sisters. I have never been more proud of finishing a task as I was after my morning of effort at the tender age of nine.
I had been thinking about this memorable experience when I made the decision to let the children learn how to cook without my help. The thing is, we are on a tight food budget. Letting children learn can be expensive in terms of food wasted if it is burned or mangled in some way and if we allow them to use expensive ingredients that I rarely purchase. (Jeff bought a whole quart of fresh cream as he is making several recipes that require it). But I had to balance all of that and let my tightwad tendencies relax so that they can have this learning experience. The funny thing is, they are so busy cooking, meal planning, and just living, I have not had one child demand that we do something “fun” in the past four days.

We have not felt the need to go to the rec center, the mall, or the movies to keep the kids “busy” during this holiday because they are already engaged in something far more exciting and fun than simply being entertained. And I truly have a break from the monotiny of meal planning, and the extra work of cooking three meals a day instead of just two (two hot meals with a packed lunch is my typical offering on monday through friday).
I’m still doing all the dishes and that is fine. I would rather wash my dishes anyway. Twice a year we go to Savers in Boulder to replenish our crockery and plates and I pick up a couple do dads in the form of serving dishes and bake ware. Why do I shop at Savers for this bric a brac? Well, I like to eat off of breakable dishes. China, glass, and crockery up the frequency of the foods you serve. Plastic cookware, plates, bowls, and cups are nice when you have children, but they lower the frequency of your foods. And because I love to serve and eat on glass cookware, we have LOTS of breakage at our house. The sounds of smashing plates and bowls is a weekly occurance.
Tea Cups, water glasses, and serving plates are regularly dropped and smashed – accidentally of course, but I never worry about it because when you have purchased those things at Savers, you really don’t care.
I like to do the dishes because then I can control the breakage a little better. What is it about nine year old boys? You send them out to wash the dishes, and soon, crash, bang, and he comes out with a gash on his finger from the broken bowl. Andy has been sporting a large bandaid the past few days.


It has been a nice time, and I anticipate continuing the cooking and homemaking experiments as long as we have children in our home.
Here is an article that claims:
Children Taken out to eat on a regular basis are at risk for heart disease

Jenny Hatch

Andrew and Jeff Helping

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