I know that getting a whole-food veggie-forward diet onto the plates, night after night, week after week is a CHALLENGE!!!! Carving out the time and energy for that can be daunting.
In my book, Dinner for a Dollar, I teach others how to save time, money, and energy on preparing whole foods. For me, saving time and energy is AS IMPORTANT as saving money. Cause, if a whole food diet takes me too long and is too stressful, I will resort to bad habits that compromise my health and my budget. Check out this blog to learn my #1 whole-food time-saving hack!
One of my greatest time-saving strategies in the kitchen is to enlist help whenever I can!!
I don’t believe martyrdom is a badge of motherhood.
Some of you may not have this luxury. Maybe you have four kids under the age of 5, your husband is a deep-sea welder who is gone for one month at a time, you’re new to the area, and you live 2,000 miles from family. You probably need to do all your food prep yourself.
But most of us have some help available to us – we’re just not utilizing it…
- Maybe you can swap with a friend.
- Maybe you can have your mom come help.
- If you’re married, maybe your spouse can chip in.
But…. I am going to say that your greatest source of kitchen help is learning to utilize your ankle biters.
There are a lot of memes about moms that won’t ask for help because their kids don’t do it right, because it’s easier to do it yourself, or because you don’t want to deal with the attitude. If I could shout one thing at you today, this would be it. Plug your ears if you don’t want to hear it. Here it goes…don’t say I didn’t warn you.
GET YOUR KIDS INVOLVED IN THE KITCHEN!!
Seriously. As early as you can. Not even kidding. This will take time in the beginning. Which is so hard…I know. But trust me when I say this: the investment of time that you put in on the front end, training your kids in the kitchen, will MORE THAN pay for itself on the back end.
My kids are now 18, 15, 8, and 5. My 18- and 15-year-olds can do anything in the kitchen. They can use my pressure cookers. They can cook a whole chicken (Learn how I cook whole chickens here!). They know how to make bone broth and cook dried beans. They can make pancakes from scratch, one of them can bake cakes from scratch. They can make umpteen kinds of salad and can roast vegetables.
Involving kids in the kitchen is so important – for you and for them – that it is worth me shouting about!
Let me tell you why I involve my kids in the kitchen:
- I need help. Seriously, not gonna lie. My motivation here is 100% selfish. Once the number of kids outnumbered the parents in our home, we began a hardcore help-with-the-home training regimen. My husband and I simply couldn’t meet all the demands of our lives without having our kids pitch in. So, they do. A lot. In the beginning, it may not seem like their help is actually helpful. It may take you more time to train them than they are contributing. BUT….I will say this with 100% certainty, the amount of time you spend training them how to help you in the kitchen in the early years will TOTALLY pay off in the later years. And, if you start them off slow, they can become proficient quickly!
- It connects them to their food! When they are involved in cooking a whole food, veggie-forward diet, they are more likely to try and enjoy the food. This gives them a direct connection to what they’re preparing, what they’re putting in their mouth and how they feel (that’s not based on research, but my personal experience as a parent).
- It connects them with me! Food prep takes a big chunk of time each week. If we involve our children with us in the kitchen, it can be a really nice time to connect with them. Of course, this doesn’t always work. But, I have found that if I have a kid that’s having a hard time, having them join me in the kitchen (1-on-1) almost always re-sets them.
- It keeps them out of trouble. This is my 2ndstrongest motivator for involving my kids in the kitchen. It’s no secret that 3-5pm are some of the hardest hours of the day. Kids are tired and hungry and find it hard to obey in this window of time. If they’re in the kitchen with you, they can’t get in trouble somewhere else!
- They live here. They eat here. That means they pitch in. This is a core value in our home. Everyone who lives here contributes to the tasks it takes to sustain life here.
- It prepares them for their future food life – outside of your home. When your children join you in your food system, they develop skills in budgeting, shopping, planning, prepping, cooking, storing, and cleaning. These skills are critical for their future success in life. Managing health and finances are 2 of the biggest struggles that adults face. I believe this is partly because of a lack of training on these topics. Teaching your kids how to manage their health and the finances – little by little – over the course of their 18 years – will help prepare them for success as an adult.
Maybe after reading this, you’re beginning to see why I am so passionate about including my kids in the kitchen. And maybe you’re feeling inspired to get yours involved too. But, you may be wondering how to do that.
There are a lot of ways to involve your kids in the kitchen, but my top 2 tips are to take it slow and keep it fun!
Only you know your child. Only you know their capabilities and limitations. Only you know your level of tolerance for having your children help out in the kitchen.
So, if they haven’t been helping before, take it slow. Give them a job they will enjoy and they can succeed at. Give them a job you can tolerate having them help with. Give them a job that will allow the two of you to connect while you’re In the kitchen together. If the 2 of you can have a good time – or a meaningful time together in the kitchen, involving them will be a source of joy for you both.
In our home, we assign each of our kids’ certain jobs – they keep those jobs for a long time. That way, they have time to become totally proficient in that job. After they become proficient, we move them up in jobs – either graduating them to another level and having a younger sibling take over their easier task, or we layer them on top – now giving them 2 tasks to do.
Here is a list of the types of activities we have our children help with in the kitchen:
- Putting away
I assign their jobs on a few factors:
- their ability
- their personality and
- what jobs they most enjoy
Most times, we involve them in job assignments.
We try to divide chores up by giving everyone jobs they most enjoy. If that can’t happen, we at least try to avoid giving anyone jobs they loathe. We also try to give jobs that they can do independently. While we do give them some tasks that require supervision, we try to train them in jobs they can do by themselves. Kids love having that independence and the confidence to know they can help without assistance. There is some fallout when you take this approach…the carrots will fall into the trash…the eggshell will go into the batter…the glass will break. But, all of that is ok. It is part of the process. It’s how they learn.
If you’re not used to involving your kids in the kitchen, here is a good article on some age-appropriate tasks for kitchen tasks. This is a good starting point – a guide for you to use. But, only you can determine the appropriate tasks for your children.
If you haven’t been involving your kids in the kitchen, don’t overthink it. Just start now. Look at that list, think of each of your children and give them 1 job each this week. Teach them how to do it well until they can do it independently. Once they can do it independently, let them!!!
If you take my advice on this, you will thank me one day.
Let me give you 2 recent examples from our own home:
Last year, my then 15-year-old son had a friend over. No one else was home. He cooked a full meal for his friend – without calling me and asking me what to do.
The year prior, my 18-year-old hosted a dinner party for 13 people.
She planned the menu, shopped for the ingredients, paid for the items herself, did all the cooking and all the cleaning – with no help from me. (Later I learned she did get help from her grandma, but she never called me!)
She had some friends bring a few items, but she provided a whole roasted chicken, roasted beets, baked potatoes, and roasted cauliflower.
She spent $8 on that food.
She was so proud of herself and I was proud of her too. After that, I knew for sure that she knows how to be successful in her food and financial life outside our home.
That’s a big deal.
And it only happened because she spent a lifetime beside me in the kitchen – pitching in.