There are many life skills that I believe are important to pass on to your children – things that will help them to function and thrive as an adult.  Managing money, working hard, being honest, and managing one’s time effectively are a few.  However, if it has to do with FOOD, well, it’s probably even critical (at least in my book!)

I was fortunate to grow up with a mother that LOVED to cook and was a self-made, gourmet chef (truly!).  It was heaven…coming home from school to the smell of fresh-baked bread or homemade pies.  I remember learning to make my first batch of bread at the age of five and being incredibly proud as the dough doubled in size as it rose in the bread pans.  I loved watching the mounds turn a honey, golden brown through the glass window of our hot oven.  Once baked, I could hardly wait for the bread to cool just barely enough to slice.  Then taking the warm piece and slather butter and fresh cooked jam on a thick, steaming slice…yummmm….my mind and mouth, still remember that day of delight with great fondness and joy.

Both of those feelings, are deeply connected to my mother and are also connected to cooking, the love of cooking, which I have tried to pass on to my own children and grandchildren.  Food, mealtime, and cooking are all a part of the traditions we cherish as a family.

As amazing as cooking can be, it can also be a Dangerous thing!  Or, so I am told by many parents and grandparents.  There are sharp knives, harmful ingredients; hot stoves and ovens; tall stools to fall off of, blenders to get spoons broken in or food whirled around your kitchen, kids fingers to be burned, bruised, banged, bitten and bumped; and well, you know, all sorts of  endless endangerment!

But, I guess, not everyone is scared off by the Hazardous Environment!  The question I am often asked is “I love cooking, but have a really hard time doing it with my little ones around.  What tips do you have to help make meal preparation more fun for all of us?  Because all I hear are my kids’ voices saying, “I want to taste that” or “let me help” or “I want to see in the bowl….”  Or their hands, arms legs seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and  just when I think I might have things under control, my littlest one child says…  “I get a chair,” or “we make cookies now?  That’s the LAST THING I want to do!  ”

In that moment, it can sometimes feel like you are slowly getting pushed under water, feeling overwhelmed, that things are chaotic and…..well…MESSY!

So, what can we do to make meal preparation more fun for everyone when little ones and/or, hopefully, your older kids are around?  Here are some ideas:

Mindset and Preparation are the keys!  Remember to: “Begin with the End in Mind!”  Ask yourself this question:  “What is the most important thing I want to come from this experience?”  I’ve given you 3 options below.  Rank your answers according to the priority they are for you!  (HINT:  If your answers are not (C.)  (A.)  (B.)  You may not have any fun, cooperation, or help!)  :

A.    The meal gets prepared and in a timely manner?
B.    The kitchen stays clean?
C.    We all have a good time and I model how to make a type of food?

What can I (and/or one of my **teenaged children) prepare in advance to help assist with that “End in Mind?”

A.    Repackage ingredients into smaller containers making it easier for little hands.
B.    Place all ingredients and utensils out on a counter/tray for easy access.
C.    Give age appropriate choices to each child so they feel a sense of decision making and contribution.

[**Since teens are often very busy with extra-curricular activities during meal prep-time, this pre-preparation can be done the night before, the morning of, or even days/weeks ahead for certain cooking projects like cookie recipes,])

Here are some specific suggestions:

1.    Begin the preparation by offering a choice whether to help or not.
a.    “Would you like to help me make dinner tonight or help by setting the table?”
2.    Setting the table while you are working on dinner allows for a collaborative effort.  If your little ones are very small, plastic or paper products can work great!
3.    Break down each dish into small parts that can be partially done by a small child or completed by a child with your assistance or supervision:
a.    Measuring the spaghetti noodles, cutting carrots for the salad, adding chocolate chips for cookies, dry ingredients like a tsp. of salt for pancake batter; tearing lettuce, chopping salad ingredients, measuring oil, etc.  Have them read you the recipe.
4.    The more prepared you are for them to help, the more fun it will be and the better their skills become!  Pampered Chef makes a little flat rounded edge knife that cuts the food and not the fingers.  Let them use all that joyful energy to chop some food needed for cooking, salads, or finger foods.

During this magical time, you may find that conversations spontaneously begin,  young minds are encouraged to dream, or voices seem invited to sing and ears are fine tuned to listen… perhaps it because hands are busily engaged with tasks that are creating wonderful aromas of deliciousness that mix with feelings of well-being and togetherness making lasting memories….ahhhh…magical, indeed!

If things do get a little hectic, remember…. to Pause and Breathe… and take a moment just to slow down, it’s clear to see how cute those little ones are and how great it is that your child(ren)  really want to help!  Combining FUN, YOU (which means your love) AND CONTRIBUTIONS to the family, helps build lasting relationships, responsibility, a wonderful work ethic, and lasting memories.

Have fun and enjoy the time you are spending with your kids!