By Amanda Smith of Mom’s 8 Limbs
For some of us, we weren’t taught how to cook by our parents. For others, our parents tried to teach us, but their skills were lacking. Both scenarios made the learning curve steep when we were on our own. Now that we have kids, I say, let’s give them these life lessons so they can be one step ahead of us when they “leave the nest.”
In Part 1 of this 2 part post, I wrote about getting your family involved in meal planning. This was meant to get you in the mindset of taking the pressure off to come up with a week’s worth of meals and get the family in on the decision making and shopping so they start to put some “skin in the game.” This should help prevent complaints about what is being cooked. I’m sure it won’t end the complaints, but hopefully it helps.
Continuing this practice of getting the family involved, now let’s discuss meal preparation. There are several strategies behind this that I will share, but ultimately you want to teach your kids (and maybe your partner too) what it takes to prepare a meal. It’s an opportunity to teach them about healthy foods, knife skills (I’ll go over this for different skill levels), following directions, and the chemistry behind cooking (i.e. boil, bake, sauté, marinate, blanch, etc.).
Before we get everyone together to help, you’ll want to come up with a plan. Get out the recipe chosen for that meal on that day based off your planning session and what is on your Week-at-a-Glance Calendar. Read through all directions and briefly think about which tasks would be most appropriate for each family member. Your decision should be based on skills and if you’d like to introduce a new skill to someone.
For a meal with a main dish and 2 sides, assign each part of the meal to one person. If there are 4 people, 2 can work on the most complex dish. If you have more than 4 people, you can also assign setting the table as a task for 1 or 2.
For a meal that is one dish, like a casserole, assign tasks based on food type. One person gets the meat, another gets the vegetables, another gets the grain, and another gets the sauce. Combine or divide the dish up more when necessary.
Now, if you don’t feel confident in your skills, there’s always YouTube. My best suggestion is to search for well-known chefs from popular cooking shows on TV.
Gather Your Family
1) Place the recipe in a location that everyone can see or get to without others in the way. If there is no recipe to post because it’s in your head, prepare to talk a lot and give the same directions a few times.
2) Assign each member their task and a location to perform it.
3) Gather the necessary ingredients. Each person is responsible for getting their own set of ingredients for their portion of the meal. For your littlest helpers, it’s a great idea to name them as they come out. For your older kids, you could challenge them to spell that ingredient (hide the recipe so they can’t cheat). And for your oldest (including your partner), you could challenge them to name another dish with that ingredient in it.
4) Gather the cooking utensils.
5) Check in to make sure everyone has read and understood their portion of the recipe.
6) Let the preparations begin!
Some Notes on Knife Skills
If a person is able to hold an object in their hand, they can use a knife. Now, this doesn’t mean I will hand over a very sharp steak knife to a 1 year old. Take into account their understanding of sharp objects. If they don’t comprehend that it could hurt them, give them a dull butter knife or something representative of a knife like a rubber spatula. The objective is to get them to understand how it works and show them the gross motor skill of sawing.
For people that can hold a knife and understand a knife is sharp, it’s a great opportunity to teach proper techniques. A steak knife is used differently than a Chef’s knife. You can either learn together or teach.
Those participating in cooking with fire should understand that they can get burned. If they don’t, they can either set the table or “cook” dishes that don’t require fire like mixing salads or stirring ingredients together. Everyone still gets to learn why we cook different items different ways with fire.
When cooking any meats, it’s a great opportunity to explain why we cook them to a certain temperature (raw, medium, well done, etc.). It’s also an opportunity to teach and practice good food handling techniques like washing hands and surfaces after handling chicken, rinsing fruits and vegetables, and keeping certain foods separated.
Allow your kids to set the timer and see what they can accomplish in that time. If the table still needs to be set, make sure that gets done now. When the dinner bell goes off, check in with those accomplishments. The person with the least gets to serve the family.
And last but certainly not least, gather everyone at the table to eat together. It wouldn’t make any sense to give up on doing things together at the very end when everyone can share their day and what they liked about preparing this meal. Studies show that families that eat together have fewer issues with truancy at school and obesity.
I wonder what studies would show if they observed a family planning, preparing, cooking, AND eating together!
If you didn’t get a chance to check out Mom’s Ultimate Meal Planning Guide, please go here. It is a great compliment to this post and will get you started on the path to getting the family involved in this essential process.
I’m Amanda Smith from Mom’s8Limbs.com where I teach moms how to reconnect with themselves through yoga so they can be cool, calm, and collected through the toddler years and beyond.
Come on over to my website and check out all I have to offer for moms looking to grow a deeper relationship with themselves and their family.