Does anyone remember the old commercial for Rice Krispie treats? Mom sits in the kitchen reading peacefully. When she finishes her book, she sighs contentedly, then splashes water on her face and sprinkles flour across her cheeks.
She takes a moment to school her expression to that of someone who has slaved all day. Then, she grabs her plate of Rice Krispie treats and takes them to her family. Her family, not realizing that Rice Krispie treats take three ingredients and ten minutes, cheers and hails her as a cross between Mother Teresa and Julia Child.
When my kids were younger, I found this to be pretty true to life. Even now, it doesn’t matter if I spend hours on a dish or throw together grilled cheese sandwiches. At least two of them will probably prefer the ‘grilled cheesies’.
I think involving kids in planning and preparing meals is helpful on many levels. I’ve found that some of their favorites are simple things. They love things that I’ve never really considered official dinners. I’ve always thought I need to make the ‘meat, starch, and vegetable plate’ I grew up with. However, often, my kids are happiest with those ‘grilled cheesies’ and Cheater’s Tomato Soup.
I find there to be negotiating power in meal planning as a family. Kids of any age are less likely to go into “Eeew, it’s green!” toddler mode if they get to vote on dinner. Early on, my kids knew if they suggested nothing but pizza and fried chicken they would be overruled. However, by including a few crowd-pleasers, I could get them to accept other things. “We can have pizza on Thursday IF everyone eats Aunt Sally’s Tuna Casserole on Wednesday without pitchin’ a fit”.
(Don’t worry, I didn’t just hurt Aunt Sally’s feelings by insulting her casserole. I actually don’t have an Aunt Sally and my kids like Tuna Casserole. By the way, “pitchin’ a fit” is regional dialect for ‘having a tantrum’. Often used interchangeably with the phrases “actin’ a fool” or “askin’ for a bustin’”. I thought I should translate, in case anyone was needing Texas Twang subtitles.)
Another benefit to meal planning with kids is you can choose foods for them to help prepare. Helping in the kitchen is great for little ones who want to sit on the counter and crack eggs, all the way to teens cooking entire meals. Having kids help prepare foods is often a dinnertime deal clincher. There is nothing that will inspire a child to try an unfamiliar food like the ownership of having cooked it himself. I actually find this holds true with adults as well.
Jonah, my twenty-year-old, recently made a ‘new to us’ recipe. It was a savory tomato pie (from Lauren @ Bless’erHouse). He made it, because, Grace would live on tomatoes, mushrooms, and chocolate if we didn’t push a little protein at her occasionally. Jonah loathes tomatoes and always has. He was determined to taste that pie though. It was funny. He really wanted to like it, but it was, after all, tomato. So, the best he could do was pronounce it ‘pizza sauce-ish’. My point is, he wanted to try it and he wanted to like it, because, he was invested in the pie. By the way, the rest of us really enjoyed his creation.
Jonah was able to make that pie, because, he was cracking eggs in my kitchen before he could see onto the counters. Nothing makes a two-year-old happier than giving him something and asking him to break it ON PURPOSE. Fishing out bits of eggshell is a small price for the glee with which a kid smacks it on the counter.
My kids have been in the kitchen with me, since those egg breaking days. All four of them enjoy cooking and are more than capable cooks. This gave them a great life skill, gave our family great food, and still gives us some of the best moments ever. In our house, a lot of love and laughter happens over cast iron and cookie sheets.
I’m going to mix a few meal planning posts in with our pantry building series. Please join me and rope in your littles or not-so-littles too. The kitchen is a great place to make memories, alongside dinner!