Kids in the kitchen may not seem like the most logical place to start a month of homeschooling posts but it's perfectly logical for me.
As the kids' educational needs get more intense, not only do I have to, but I want to, devote adequate time to their education (and activities).
We are interest-led homeschoolers. Our kids are responsible for their learning, but I am responsible for preparing the environment, facilitating habit formation, sourcing materials, record keeping, getting them places, and showing up for my job enthused and inspired.
I spend a lot more time "homeschooling" during these years than I did when the kids were little. (This time does not necessarily equate to teaching them directly, but I'll get into that in another post.)
Having kids contribute around the house meets several objectives.
They learn "real life skills", which is core part of their curriculum, and they learn responsibility (character development).
But just as important for me, is that their participation frees up my time so I can "do everything" I need to do.
Kids contributing is my way of making sure I have enough time for their education, my other household work, and my own needs.
Taking care of my own needs is not trivial in the scheme of things. Showing up for my homeschool responsibilities enthused and inspired means that I am both inspired about what we're doing but also refreshed from doing things I love as a regular part of my day.
Damien and I have attempted to divide our labor, as much as possible, according to personal interests, strengths, and gifts. Our recent rebuild was largely about this.
Managing the kitchen, the kids' education, our household finances, and the basic care and cleaning of our home is my job in this life season.
I'm the one who makes things flow around here. I keep things in line. I manage "stuff" and schedules. I like that job.
Life with three older kids, kids period, can get kind of out of hand if you're not careful. I don't know about you, but my family will take as much as I am willing to give and then they'll ask for more. Not because they are mean or nasty or even trying to take advantage of me but because they are human.
We all have a tendency to look to other people to solve our problems, make life easier, do our work. As my kids grow older it is especially imperative that I'm not the mother who enables that.
I'm a dedicated, invested homeschooling mom, yes, but I want my own life also. A life that largely revolves around my kids, my home and hearth, but a life with time to read (in the middle of the day), exercise and be outdoors, time to write, time to make stuff and be creative, time to connect with other women - those are things I want to do.
It's my job to set my personal boundaries, and not to expect other people, my husband included, to intuit and advocate for my needs.
Having my kids involved in the kitchen is about learning important skills, like cooking, but it's also about sharing household responsibilities so I'm not taking on too much of the household burden.
Our kids are required to help in the kitchen for the following very practical reasons:
- Meal planning, grocery shopping within a budget, and cooking are life skills. This is part of their curriculum.
- Our health is largely dependent on what we eat. Food related disease (of some kind) is rampant in our society. Learning to cook, eat, and enjoy healthy food is habit formation of the highest order.
- Kids eat a lot, it just makes sense to have them help prepare that.
- Learning to cook, to plan meals and prepare them according to a schedule teaches excellent time management skills. (I don't give my kids school assignments, daily meals are natural "deadlines" in our days.)
- I actually need their help for us to accomplish everything everyone in our family wants to do in a day. I just can't do it all, and when it comes to cooking, nor do I want to! We all have to pitch in, it's simple as that.
Six years ago (the kids were 10, 8 & 6) I wrote a post about the number of hours I spent on food-related chores.
Managing a buying club, weekly trips to our CSA, gardening, making most everything from scratch, and regular hospitality in addition to menu planning, grocery shopping and cooking, tipped my daily average into full-time hours. I spent approximately eight hours a day on food related chores. It's as unbelievable to me now as it was then.
When I wrote that post I resolved "it's time to get the kids more involved in the kitchen... I would love to work myself down to a part-time job."
our kids cooking Ramen noodles on the trail, a first for them
That particular summer was probably the height of my kitchen and cooking related time investment. It wasn't until a couple years later that I admitted on the blog I don't really like cooking, at least not all the meals, and such a high amount of food related chores, though noble (and I think I took some pride in how noble it all was), wasn't really how I wanted to be spending my time.
Since that summer six years ago I have been actively working myself out of that full-time job, down to a level that feels more manageable. Publishing that post, taking a hard look at the numbers, was a light bulb moment for me, illuminating where I needed to make changes.
Another lightbulb moment came this past summer when I watched my kids thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail. I realized what they were capable of and decided upon our return home that they would take on more household responsibilities.
Before our hike the kids were helping somewhat in the kitchen. Celine was cooking supper once a week, the kids were making snacks, and on their own for breakfast. And at the height of my online work Damien was also helping in the kitchen.
Since coming home from our hike Damien and I have changed the division of labor so I am back to being responsible for home, and he's responsible for the income, he's mostly out the picture in the kitchen. But the kids are more involved than ever.
Currently in our kitchen
We have a weekly cooking schedule and I divvy up the daily food responsibilities - cooking lunch, dishwasher and lunch helper, snack prep, and cooking supper - among the four of us. (Damien does supper dishes and helps me cook on the weekends.)
Each of the kids is responsible for planning and cooking one lunch, one snack and one supper every week. They also will assist either me or one of their siblings in preparing lunch two days a week.
What this means is the everyday each kid is doing something in kitchen, on a rotating schedule.
I am responsible for two lunches, two snacks and two suppers. And on the weekends one lunch and one supper.
I am now down to preparing less than 50% of our family's meals and snacks.
Meal Planning and Scheduling
First of all, participation is not optional. If you want to eat, you have to be a part of the cooking.
For the record, participation in household chores has never been optional in our home. If possible, I will divvy up chores according to interest and strengths, and the kids sometimes swap things around on their own, but participation is not voluntary. Because this has always been the standard, since they were toddlers, the kids may sometimes whine to me about their chore woes (to which I mostly laugh, and then usually tickle them, yes really) but they know resistance is futile.
At the beginning of the week everyone is responsible to choose their recipes for the week. There are a lot of repeats, each of us has our favorite recipes we like to make, but I "encourage" the kids to regularly try new recipes. I provide some guidance so we're not eating rice every night, etc.
The meals are written on a weekly menu plan that looks something like this.
I prepare the grocery list from this menu plan and do all the shopping. The kids aren't old enough yet for that!
The kids have dietary guidelines (our house rules) they must follow when choosing recipes. Vegan, minimally processed ingredients, lots of veggies, gluten-free and corn-free for their Dad.
Some of our current favorite recipe sources are:
You can find recipe inspiration for the type of food we eat on my Pinterest.
Fend for yourself. I like eating the same thing, most every day, some variation of oats, nuts, fruit. None of my kids likes oatmeal anymore, they may never have "liked" it but it was what we ate for breakfast for years.
Everyone fixes their own - potatoes & salsa, leftover supper, rice, miso wakame soup. The only time we have convenience store-bought breakfasts (toast or cereal) is on the weekends.
Now that each of the kids are responsible for one lunch per week, our lunch menu has expanded and now includes:
- green meal salads (I wrote an ebook about that)
- grain, vegetable and bean salads
- soup (I'm the soup master of the house and at least once a week, especially in this season, I make soup for lunch)
- occasionally a sandwich-type lunch
generally cats are not part of cooking
Oh, these kids need to eat a lot.
Snacks are either something baked (according to the house rules), popcorn, rice pudding, or veggies and dip.
Whole-food, plant-based snacks are some of the trickiest things to find recipes for and we're always tweaking recipes and making modifications. We have a few tried-and-true but we're always looking for more. (And we're all tired of Lara bar type foods.)
As has been the case for the last fourteen years, suppers are built around either rice, potatoes, pasta or beans, with the addition of a hearty amount of vegetables, beans or tofu, in some kind of sauce.
Suppers are One Pot Meals though most often two pots are involved - one for the grain, one for the bean/tofu/vegetable sauce. Almost all of our meals are eaten in a bowl.
The kids cook much of the same fare I've been cooking for years. The following links give examples of the type of meals they make:
With the kids helping more in the kitchen I feel inspired once again in the kitchen to experiment with more complicated recipes. Yes, I can make hearty soup with my eyes closed but I am enjoying trying new recipes these days and reserving the soup usually for lunch.
Training and Technicalities
My kids have been working with me in the kitchen, in some capacity, since I could sit their diapered bums on the kitchen counter, or stand them on a chair to help wash dishes.
They know their way around the kitchen but I was still surprised how little "they caught" from this when it came time to start cooking a full meal, like supper.
At fifteen Celine has been cooking supper for a couple years. She's a pro in the kitchen now. She can modify recipes, make substitutions. Her repertoire goes beyond pasta.
Brienne, twelve, is my most inclined-to-cook child. She likes experimenting in the kitchen especially if sweet things are involved, which they aren't very often. She likes to dress the part.
House of Anubis inspired "boarding school" look,
lately Brienne prefers wearing a lady's maid/servant attire while preparing meals (or anytime of day really)
Laurent is fourteen and his biggest challenge in the kitchen is following the sequential steps of a recipe and also not having the experience to fill-in-the-gaps if the recipe if vague about something. Processing a long list of instructions is difficult for Laurent (because of dyslexia) so the practice of reading and following recipes is really good skill-builder. To assist him I will often re-type recipes, making sure the instructions are very explicit. Eventually he'll have the experience to fill-in-the gaps on his own, but in the beginning I need to help with this.
When the kids are first responsible for a meal or snack preparation I work with them, as their assistant. I did more of this hand holding pre-hike.
When we came back from our hike and Brienne and Laurent started cooking supper, as well as Celine, I helped them as an assistant for two weeks and then stepped out of the kitchen. They've had years of lunch cooking experience, my kids are master salad makers, so I knew they could work their way around a kitchen but there was still lots to learn.
Generally, I'm in the house and available in case they have questions. I've scheduled Celine's supper cooking with my weekly big grocery trip (in other words, I'm out of the house when she's cooking) because I know she can manage without me in the house.
Most of our recipes are now stored digitally. I chucked out my recipe binders in our last move, it was time to purge. I keep recipes now either in MacGourmet (the program I use for writing my own recipes), or as simple text or pdf documents stored in digital files, organized in the same manner as my old hardcopy recipe binders. (Beans, breads, curries & stir fries,... ferments, grains,... potatoes, remedies, rice...)
Brienne and Laurent like following printed recipes so we're rebuilding a much simplified recipe binder with our current family favorites.
That's the short version of what it looks like to have five cooks in the house.
It feels somehow selfish, and slightly ironic, to admit that having the kids contribute more in the kitchen has increased my overall enjoyment in my vocation as homemaker.
Although I identify most strongly as a homemaker, I'm happiest in my role as manager of our home as opposed to family chef. I am more comfortable with being a domestic maestro than a kitchen goddess.
My kids of course can make their own choice of who they want to be, and the roles and responsibilities they'll assume when they leave home and eventually start their own families. But one thing's for sure, all of them will know how to cook.