Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kids in the Kitchen: Gift from Heaven or Hell?

Let me paint a scene for you:
In a dimly lit kitchen, a bedraggled young woman hunches over a steaming pot of soup while being serenaded by the cries of her 1-year old son as he struggles in her arms, hungry more for sleep than for food.
As she shushes the baby and stirs the pot, her 3 year old daughter tugs innocently at the mother’s pant leg and proudly announces “Mama, I made a pee pee in my undies,” the evidence of this truth in a pale yellow pool at the little girl’s feet. The mother groans, sets the pot off the heat, and begins the task of cleaning up her daughter with a still screaming toddler on her hip.
Ten minutes later, the mother calls all 4 children to the table and sets the warm bowls of soup before her four hungry children. As she turns from the table, heading towards the chore of washing the dishes from the meal preparation, she hears her oldest son shout out, “Mama, I don’t like this! Can’t I have something else?” and the plea is echoed by each of the younger children either in word or in deed, bowls being pushed away accompanied by faces of sheer disgust.
The mother stops mid stride and in a calm and controlled tone, says “No, you may not have something else to eat and if those bowls are not licked clean in the two seconds it takes me to turn around, I will go straight to my bedroom, find each of your birth certificates, burn them, then load you all in the car, and return you to the hospital from whence you came. Do…you…understand…me?”

Obviously, the woman showcased above is NOT me. I would never, ever even entertain the thought of saying such a thing to any child. Coincidentally, I happen to have 4 little lovelies living in my house called “my children”. Most of the time, I think they are divine, the most wonderfully diverse and delicious creations ever given to a mother.

And then dinnertime comes…and I want a refund.

That is, until about 3 weeks ago. I finally decided to try out this age old advice: “If you let your kids cook it, they’ll eat it.” When I first heard the idea, I thought, “Obviously, these people don’t actually have any children”. When I stumbled across the idea yet again, I thought, “Obviously, these people don’t have my children”.

Truthfully, I’m giving my kids a bit of a bad rap here. If I was a raw vegan foodist, I would have hit the jackpot with my kids. They’ll eat bowls of sliced peppers, apples, and strawberries faster than I can cut them. But if you cook the peppers or the apples, forget about it. And they were getting to the point where they turned their noses up to absolutely everything I set before them that wasn’t spaghetti or chili, and I simply could not stomach another bowl of either. I was burnt out.

So I decided to put my two oldest kids in charge of cooking. The first week they each picked a dinner recipe and a dessert recipe that they wanted to make. My seven-year old, Cade, of course, chose a new kind of cinnamon-laced chili (so adventurous) and Mocha Latte Ice Cream (he’s addicted to coffee and he’s only 7—thanks MeMe) while my 6-year old, Lucy, chose Red Beans and Rice (chili-esque, I know) and Valentine’s Lemon cut-out cookies (they both HATE lemon-flavored anything but I guess she was mesmerized by the heart-shape).

However, the outcome of this little experiment amazed both my husband and I. First of all, the kids took such pride in their creations. When it came time to set the table for their dinner, they declined any help we gave them and they insisted on serving everyone their meals. When Lucy tried to put cups of water on the table, Cade actually said, “Don’t worry about it, Luce. I’ll take care of everything. You just sit down and relax.” Wow. I’m still speechless.

Second of all, they ate food, with relish might I add, that they would not have touched, let alone consumed, if I had made it. My kids are notorious for hating mushrooms, but the night that Lucy made her meal with big chunks of mushrooms dotted among the beans and rice, they eagerly munched each one, proclaiming “Aren’t those mushrooms yummy, Mama!”

Lastly, they were so encouraging and respectful of each other, even when they didn’t like something. They always told the cook that their meal was wonderful, even if their face had the opposite response. After each meal, they took a vote, “if you think this recipe is a keeper, raise your hand!” and inevitably everyone raised their hands and that night’s chef would beam with pride.

Now we are in the midst of our 4th week and we have no plans of stopping. Just last night as Lucy and I were cooking her meal together, she turned to me and said, “I love cooking with you, Mama. It’s so much fun.” Too cute.

So I’d love to hear from any of you out there that may have similar (or opposite) experiences with including your kids in cooking! And tomorrow I’m going to share one of my favorite "kid-cooked" meals so far!


  1. Great encouragement! Did you happen to mention that you'd appreciate the same respect they're giving each other?

  2. Very good point, Becky, and one I need to make with my kids. Thanks for the insight!

  3. I started doing this thanks to you Maile! Thanks for the great idea! Right now Noah is moaning in the living room about having to write out a list while Gabriel and Lilli are happily (and excitedly) chatting about their dinners. The downside might be that we gain a LOT of weight. ;)

  4. Those are some seriously good looking kids. And did you know? Kids In The Kitchen was once a fairly famous Aussie band!