Kids in the Kitchen ~ What's working this season in our home

Kitchen work is key part of my homemaking job. I suspect it is for you also because we all have to eat. But I don't spend nearly the amount of time I used to in the kitchen.

Spending lots of time in the kitchen when I had young children was simply unavoidable. Damien went to work to support our family, I stayed home to take care of our family. The kitchen was my responsibility.

Everything with little kids takes more time and when our kids were wee ones I was re-learning how to cook (this was when we changed our diet) so of course I had to spend more time in the kitchen. I was both doing the work and learning how to do the work, while mothering young children.

That was one season of my life. This is another.

My goal all along has been to work myself out of job in the kitchen. Or at the very least work myself down to a part time job in the kitchen.

I haven't talked about this much on the blog, because I don't write about food that often, but the truth is I don't love to cook and some days I don't even like it.

It's taken me a while to feel comfortable saying this out loud. Like saying so is somehow admitting I'm a bad mother or homemaker or don't care about my family's health. Nothing could be further from the truth, healthy eating is one of our core values, not a fringe activity.

I cook because we must eat. I cook because I love my family. And those are reason enough.

However, if I can get out of cooking and still provide healthy food for my family - I will! In my food fantasies where finances and location are no limit I imagine eating out at amazing vegan restaurants, regularly eating Whole Food Market take-out, and generally eating well but not having to cook that food.

We don't eat out at amazing vegan restaurants, there are no Whole Food Markets or other healthy take-out options where we live but I am cooking less because I'm raising my own kitchen help. Now that my kids are older they are very helpful in the kitchen and are taking over tasks that used to be solely mine.

Oh happy day!!

Learning to cook is a non-negotiable in our home. Helping in the kitchen is a requirement. Of course it's not all drudgery - there's usually lots of laughter, loud music, and movement involved in our kitchen work.

Sharing food responsibilities just makes sense. Life with kids this age is really full and active. They need that. To accommodate this increased activity, and still maintain a healthy home life, the kids have to participate in more of the food and home care responsibilities.

Here's a few ways our kids contribute in the kitchen.

Céline cooks supper once a week. I've tried this in the past when she was younger. For some reason it never stuck. Perhaps she was too young, or I was too involved in the process. Céline likes to cook Heather Bruggeman's recipes from her Whole Food Kitchen and 30 Day Vegan courses. We think Heather's recipes are both easy and tasty.

If the kids don't like what I've made for breakfast they make their own. I make oatmeal on the weekdays for breakfast. I have no problems serving the same breakfast 4 days in a row. I am not one of those moms who makes pancakes one day, waffles the next, muffins, granola, etc... I make a pot of oatmeal, offer a bunch of self serve toppings, and you eat it or you don't. And if you don't you're on your own.

This is what Brienne likes to eat instead. Céline started the potato trend but Brienne turned it into art. Brienne created this image on her iPad. And she's got a little project going on right now with food and her iPad. But I can't spill the beans just yet.

The kids make the snacks. This is a new routine we started this month. We had gotten into a less-than-desirable routine of relying on rice cakes and peanut butter for afternoon snacks. I don't think there is anything wrong with rice cakes and peanut butter but there are more nutritious options, we just have to make them. I especially wanted veggies to feature more prominently in our snack repertoire.

So now, the kids are each responsible for preparing one snack recipe a week. One recipe source we use is Raw Energy: 124 Raw Food Recipes for Energy Bars, Smoothies, and Other Snacks to Supercharge Your Body (this month it's only $2.99 for Kindle). Each kid chooses a recipe for the week, sometimes with guidance from me, and they prepare a double batch so that they only have to "do the work" once. Three kids, three double batches, six days of afternoon snacks.

Popular choices so far are veggies and dip, fruit and nut bars, and baked granola bars (not from the raw book, of course). Other easy standbys that don't require much prep or planning are popcorn, smoothies, raw nuts and seeds, fresh fruit, and of course rice cakes and nut butters.

This month we eliminated gluten from our family diet, as a one month trial. (Damien is always gluten free but the kids and I usually eat gluten a few times a week.) The Raw Energy book is great resource for whole food, gluten-free recipes.

This week I am sending to newsletter subscribers the recipe for the kid-created dip in the photo above.

The kids help me make salads for lunch. I already wrote about this so you can see that post for more details.

These are the major ways our kids are helping in the kitchen during this life stage. I still spend a lot of time planning, sourcing, and preparing our food but I also do more managing of kitchen duties these days, and I like managing!

If you are looking for ways to involve your kids more in the kitchen and teach them good nutrition you might be interested in the Skillit course Season's Eatings.

The class starts in a couple days. When you check out use the code "FIMBY" and pay only $15 for your registration (regular price is $19). I am a contributor to this winter's course. Sharing a few words on how I've taught my kids to cook through the different stages of parenting. 

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  • Jess

    Jess on Jan. 30, 2013, 2:14 p.m.

    Thank you for the info about season's eatings! Our oldest has been called mini martha since she was about 2 years old; she just loves to be in the kitchen. I've been looking for ways to get our almost four year old more interested in helping. This may be a way to accomplish that!


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 30, 2013, 2:24 p.m.

      Jess, Brienne is our kitchen-inspired cook. It's creative for her and she likes experimenting and making new things. I love letting her loose and seeing what she comes up with. My other two kids are motivated by their hunger to prepare food, more than any natural inclination to cook! Whatever works.   


  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on Jan. 30, 2013, 2:54 p.m.

    I've been involving my girls more and more in food preparation. For Christmas my youngest got a cookbook, a cooking magazine subscription and an apron. She loves to help me.

    If I involve them in every step - from menu planning to shopping to preparation and then serving - they are all in and very enthusiastic about it.


  • Sarah M

    Sarah M on Jan. 30, 2013, 4:44 p.m.

    I also don't love to cook. I typically enjoy it when I have a good hour to prepare something; I hate feeling rushed in anything. I am somewhat decent at both baking and cooking, and I've been doing both of those gluten free for almost 8 years (diagnosed celiac 8 years in June) so making food that way have become second nature. Also, eating well with only one income really makes one creative in the kitchen, at least that's how it happened for me. I didn't even know how to scramble an egg when I was first married! I have definitely come a long way since then.

    I'm not sure how much you bake, but a great 1:1 gluten free flour exchange is this: Take a bag of Bob's Red Mill GF All Purpose Flour (red cover) mixed with a bag of Bob's Red Mill GF baking & biscuit flour (blue cover). Mix it in a bag until thoroughly combined, and use it in exchange for any flour (all purpose or whole wheat) in any recipe. We just keep a jar of this in the kitchen at all times. There are 'fancy' (read: expensive and numerous) ways to make gf foods with nut flours, grain flours, etc, but I find this the easiest and most convenient. One would think to just use the All purpose flour on a 1:1 ratio, but it is MUCH too dense.

    Hope that helps. Sarah M


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 30, 2013, 5:02 p.m.

      I totally hear you on the 1:1 flour exchange. Doesn't work. I've been baking g-free for years and make all my own g-free baking flour mixes (I have a few tried and true recipes I use) and I've blogged about that here before. But for the most part, I gave up on regular baking years ago. We really limit our refined fats (ie: oils), refined sweeteners including honey and maple syrup, and also don't regulary eat eggs. When you take all that out baking loses it's lustre. Way too much substitutions and for me it's just not the worth the effort. In the end it's not a loss though. I think baked goods, or any kind, are not as nutritious as "whole" foods. Even rice cakes, made with whole brown rice are more "whole" than a flour product. So baking nowadays in our home is rare and a treat, which I how I prefer to keep it.  I will say that I'd rather buy a bakery croissant (they make fabulous croissants here) once in a while than have regular baked goods at home. We like to limit those type of treats to outside the home. 


  • mary

    mary on Jan. 31, 2013, 1:35 p.m.

    as always, thank you for the inspiration and your honesty, renee! i just placed a hold on the book at the library and am excited to look through it with my children. also, the dip looks delicious!


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 31, 2013, 1:41 p.m.

      Mary, when you get the book one of our favorite dips in it is the Curry Cashew. I sub. tahini and water for the oils (it's so rich as it is) but other that we follow it as is. Oh my goodness that is a good dip. We eat it on veggies but it would be so good with crackers also. Our favorite g-free ones are Mary's Gone or Mary's Organics, as they are called in Canada. Lots of good stuff in that book.


  • Rachel

    Rachel on Oct. 6, 2013, 3:37 a.m.

    Love this! My husband and I have been trying our best to make cooking a family affair as well, and it's going great so far. We're all just so busy, and it's so nice being able to spend that extra time together. 


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