How to allow your kids to cook for you and still keep your sanity.

Thanksgiving was amazing because I had a nice break from my usual online activities, I got to clean the house (shut the door!), ate like a pig, and even shopped on Black Friday (get outta town!)

Notice, I didn’t say “Thanksgiving was amazing because I cooked....”?? That’s because my kids cooked Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Whaaaat? You say? Yep. That’s what *I* said too when they told me their plans. And I yelped something like… HELLLLP!

I always cook Thanksgiving…. A.L.W.A.Y.S….since I was sixteen! Wait. That’s right. I cooked my first Thanksgiving when I was a teenager too! But that was different; I was totally capable in the kitchen. I never cooked a turkey before then but at least I knew how to chop, dice, and shred. I mean, my daughter Em is a fine chef in her own right but, a Thanksgiving dinner?

I had to really let that one sink in a bit. How was I going to stay away from the kitchen and not meddle?

It took some thinking and planning on my part.

Here are some tips on letting your kids cook for you. Or do anything else, for that matter. Just substitute the “cooking” part with an activity of your choice.

Tips on teaching kids to cook for you or do anything else for that matter

  • Be a role model – this is a no brainer but if kids don’t know how to do something, you have to teach them by showing and doing. Like cooking. If you don’t cook, don’t expect them to know how to cook either. They have to learn it from somewhere, right? It might not be a fancy Thanksgiving dinner but if you want them to cook, then, YOU have to cook to show them how. Start with simple age appropriate dishes.  Ironically, my mom never cooked Thanksgiving dinner  because it’s an American tradition that she didn’t learn as an immigrant. But I was determined to have a Thanksgiving dinner like my friends’ did so I taught myself at age sixteen. Since then, I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinners for my family at my house every year. My kids learn to appreciate the once a year family sit down dinner tradition and I’m sure they’ll continue the tradition with their own families one day.
  • Just in case you die” folder  – Don’t laugh but I have a folder of recipes and menu tips, just in case I die. My kids always joked that they wanted certain recipes if I die so I have a “Just in case I die” folder with all of their favorite ones, with a planning guide. So, for Thanksgiving, I have a mapped out schedule of dishes that need to be made from Monday before Thanksgiving to the day after with leftovers.  When they cooked this year, they followed this menu plan to a “T” and it was a life saver. I didn’t get the, “Mommmm!” every ten minutes  from the kitchen. They had the instructions already.
  • Keep yourself busy and let them do their thing. – I normally clean the house a few days before Thanksgiving because I know I’ll be busy cooking on that day. But the house gets messy by Thanksgiving day but I try to ignore the misplaced books and magazines and other miscellaneous items that found their way out of proper places because I’m too busy cooking. But, this time, I cleaned the day before Thanksgiving while kids were preparing so I didn’t get to meddle, too much. It kept ME busy and away from the kitchen. If she/he didn’t yell for me to rescue them, I didn’t have a reason to go in the kitchen…other than to get something to drink, then, I’d peek and I’d get yelled at…. So, I stayed busy. I also did the laundry, straightened books, started sorting through Christmas decorations, decluttered the closets, matched up socks… And I posted pictures on Facebook as the dishes were being prepared. That was fun.
  • Suggest simple dishes – even with your step-by-step instructions and menu, if the recipes are not simple enough, kids could fail. So when suggesting a menu, stick with simple dishes that they can cook successfully. The last thing you want to do is to lie to your kids how great their dishes are when they are terrible. They’ll know. They are smart. You can help them succeed with a bit of guidance in advance. Don’t let them get too ambitious. Keep it simple.
  • Let them experiment – you might think your stuffing recipe is the world’s best. But let your kids experiment with what they want to add to your already fabulous recipe. It won’t kill it, unless they want to add frog’s legs or chicken feet to the recipe. But then again, in some cultures, they are delicacies. :) So you see, there is no limit as to what they can do. Let them add their personal touch. Em wanted to stuff the turkey with vegetables, onions, and brush with olive oil with herbs. I don’t usually cook it that way but heck, it actually sounded great so I let her. On the other hand, she didn’t want to add raisins to my stuffing recipe and I was disappointed but it wasn’t going to ruin the dish so I let it go. And “A” wanted to add bacon to his mashed potato. How can I say “No” when he brings home this organic bacon (my favorite brand) for his gourmet rendition of a classic dish?

apple gate
And how did it taste? Speechless, they said. Of course.

So you see, with these simple (I’m sure there are more) tips, you can make your kids feel accomplished in helping you. But you have to help them help you.

Here is what I endured after not getting involved.

Look Out! Teenagers are in the kitchen!

Em brushing the 10 hour brined turkey with herbed olive oil. See all the colorful goodness she stuffed in and around the bird? Totally her idea.

And……Ta Dah!thanksgiving

“A” even made two versions of Mashed Potatoes – 1. Vegetarian with vegetable broth and 2. Organic Bacon Bits with Heavy Cream. He was totally psyched about his bad ass cooking abilities that he vowed to make that every year. Maybe every week.

And Ms. Em outdid herself and made mostly vegetarian side dishes so my hubby and I can eat. Such a thoughtful and considerate kid!

While I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of NOT being the main chef, I gladly remained as the official dishwasher and the bottle washer. But seriously, I was actually amazed at how disciplined I was in NOT meddling. I think that was partially due to kids having total control and I was not needed in the kitchen.

I think I need therapy.


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