When people find out I’m a dietitian and write a blog about feeding kids, it’s only a matter of time before they ask: “Do your kids cook with you?”
I cringe a little bit every time the question is asked. Because the answer isn’t a rosy, filtered Instagram moment. The answer is no, not really.
The truth is that neither one of my boys has expressed much interest in cooking. They enjoy helping me bake, but that’s because they know I’ll let them lick the spoon if they stick around long enough. The fact that I blog about feeding kids, spend a lot of time in the kitchen creating new recipes, and even collaborated with Cooking Light on a cookbook hasn’t sparked much enthusiasm in their little spirits.
And can I blame them? They simply wait to be called to the table each night, where a plate of food is waiting for them. They’ve got it pretty good. Even worse, a few years ago I established the house rule that their daily allotted screen time occurred between 5-6pm so that I could make dinner in peace. So now nobody wants to give up Minecraft to stir spaghetti sauce (and to be honest, most nights I savor the alone time).
Yet I really want my boys to become Men Who Can Cook. They don’t have to turn into foodies, but I want them to leave the house with the basics: how to pan-fry some chicken cutlets, bake fish fillets, roast veggies, make a simple pasta dish, and use a chef’s knife.
When I’ve forced the issue, I’ve gotten mixed results. My older son took pride in learning how to make his own scrambled eggs in the morning, though he’d still prefer to flip through the latest issue of Lego magazine while I did it for him. My younger son is less enthused about learning to cook. Let’s recall this photo from last year (read: Cooking With Kids):
So I’ve sweetened the deal. By paying them. This summer I established a chore system. In addition to the “every day chores” that are done without reward (making your bed, clearing your dishes, not leaving your shoes in front of the door), there are optional “bonus chores” worth a quarter each: emptying the recycling, dusting–and yes, helping to cook (at ANY meal, so it doesn’t always compete with Minecraft). So far, they’ve only taken me up on it twice. But it’s progress. It’s a baby step toward them knowing how to make a decent meal.
Home cooking matters. I know this. I preach this. If your kids are into it, that’s wonderful. Keep posting photos on Facebook of your preschoolers with their soufflés and I will try very hard to contain my jealously. But if they aren’t, don’t beat yourself up. We’ve got time.
To prove this theory, the day after I wrote this post and saved it as a draft, my ten year old and his buddy decided to spontaneously make a recipe from my cookbook (the baked mozzarella bites) on their own. They read the recipe, divided up the tasks, problem-solved, and needed almost no help (they did ask me to take the hot baking sheet out of the oven, which I was happy to do). It was a thing of beauty watching them work together and take pride in their work. And it gave me hope. My kids really will learn to cook someday. They just might like it too.
My boys are the same way. They just want to be boys but I worry about them. I fear they need to act less like the stereotypical boy so they can be popular in our wonderful new LGBT world. I don’t know if learning to cook will help but it’s worth a try. Also I dread to think of how a boy through and through will probably grow up to be a man through and through, a neanderthal basically. I don’t pay my kids mostly because I don’t want to lead my daughter into what could turn out to me a risky habit of taking money for favors. It is all so puzzling and frustrating to be a mom. The good news is young women today now have twice as much choice in how they marry than we did and having kids is an option that isn’t considered so important anymore.
Sarah–My boys don’t really have an interest in cooking, but not because they’re boys. They just don’t have an interest. I have two children, both boys, neither one really want to cook right now. If I had girls, I would be doing the same thing I am doing with my boys–encouraging them to help me cook but also being patient with their interests. I do the vast majority of cooking in our house because I am home at dinnertime and because I enjoy it; not because I’m a woman. I didn’t leave my parents’ house knowing much about cooking, neither did my husband. We both learned together and continue to learn. I want my kids to leave the house with cooking skills because it’s important, not because I think men are neanderthals who don’t know how to operate a stove. It’s unfortunate that you interpreted this post as me making some kind of statement about gender roles.
OH man- I just love that photo of your little guy – so fun seeing it again. This is such a great post – my daughter does like being in the kitchen a bit more but there are many days when I ask if she wants to help make XYZ and she’s like “I’ll pass.” But then you get little bits of hope like when your son and friend made those mozzarella bits or my daughter, after refusing mushrooms for years, is now loving them on pizza – it keeps you going.
You are laying the foundation my friend – I have faith (we have to or why the heck are we even bothering?? lol)
I am so grateful for you honesty! I have also struggled with this – my son loves baking with me, but preparing dinner always felt too stressful. A few weeks ago, I heard Samantha Barnes of Raddish Kids speak and she gave so many helpful tips. I was most struck by her idea to invite our kids to do just one small task during meal prep – such as stirring a salad dressing or clipping the basil leaves off their stems for pesto. Implementing this simple idea has literally changed everything! My son also plays Minecraft around this time (!), but I’ll call to him and say “Come, I’ve got a job for you”. And, he is excited and proud to do something small, but meaningful. Often, he’ll even ask to help more and other times, he wants to go back to playing, but it’s been an incredible bridge to cooking together almost everyday in a really doable and fun way.
It was really important to my mom that her children learned to cook before leaving home. She made it part of our chores in our teen years to make sure we could cook. As children the only thing she did was have an open door policy so we could come in and help if we wanted. And we all left home with at least basic cooking skills.