When my kids were small, I decided that they should be responsible for preparing a meal at least once a week. I hope you're not picturing a kids baking championship scenario where children willingly stand at the kitchen counter atop their little stool and chop vegetables with kid safe knives, because you would be wrong. The truth is that with my kids at the healm, my kitchen resembled the last 15 minutes of Master Chef Junior cooking show. Hangry, hormonal cooks running around the kitchen, frantically trying to pull together anything edible to put on a plate.
As my kids got older and acquired more culinary skills, having them make dinner should have gotten less hectic and in some ways it did - but in a lot of ways - it didn't. 🙄 Over time, they became more experienced which meant that they were more independent and required less help and supervision from yours truly. Unfortunately, their independence in the kitchen also meant that they developed their own ideas about the way that things should be done. Well into their teen years they insisted on stirring absolutely everything like the Swedish chef from the Muppets and they dressed in complete firefighter gear anytime they had to put anything in or take anything out of the oven.
The fact is that they are really good cooks - now. The final product was never the issue. It was watching the process that gave me anxiety. Every cabinet door in the kitchen was left open, there were broken eggs laying on the counter and a Hansel and Gretel worthy bread crumb trail scattered throughout my kitchen. Traits that my mom claimed I also had as a child.
The collaborative cooking efforts between my kids and I were anything but flawless. My kids really didn't appreciate me hovering over them while they perfected their kitchen skills any more than I liked to be in the kitchen with them. I get it. No one wants to be criticized for using a whisk to stir spaghetti or correcting them when they try to add a "bulb" of garlic to the marinara instead of a "clove". True story.
I realize that I have my own way of doing things in the kitchen and I can be kind of a snob when it comes to proper use of cooking utensils. In retrospect, I was way too focused on teaching them proper use of kitchen equipment when I should have been more concerned with teaching them cooking survival skills. I'm happy to report that we all survived the very messy and awkward early kitchen experiences and I now have two adult children who are very competent and experienced cooks.
I did learn early on that finding the right recipe was key to keeping my kids interested in cooking. My daughter was a big fan of anything that she could get her hands into. The messier the better. She especially loved mixing up burgers, meatballs and meatloaf with her hands. Squishing raw eggs through her fingers is what really made cooking fun for her. One of her absolute favorite things to make (and eat) has always been meatloaf. Whenever I find a new meatloaf recipe, I wait for her to come home so we can make it together. (Cooperative cooking goes much better now that she's 20.)
Mediterranean Mini Meat Loaves
3/4 cup panko
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup roasted red pepper
1/4 cup tomato sauce
4 Tablespoons fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fennel
1 pound lean ground beef
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon oil
The same theory that I applied to my kids first kitchen experiences also applies to my husband when he's in the kitchen. He really does TRY his best in the kitchen but I've found it in my best interest NOT to watch him while he cooks. I find myself saying things like "why are you stabbing that avocado" and "what did you do to that melon?" when I observe his unusual techniques. The fact is that he has made some pretty amazing meals considering his unconventional methods. I try and encourage his experimentation in the kitchen but I have to admit that it's even harder to be positive with my husband than it was with my children. I'm still trying.
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