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Keep it Simple in the Kitchen: 10 Easy ways to include kids in cooking – Guest Hillary Hess. Episode 66.

I have vivid memories of my first trip to the grocery store after I had moved away from home.  I was at a Complete. Loss. My mom had not included lots of cooking-with-kids sessions in her parenting.  Thus, I wandered up and down the aisles feeling a bit panicked because I did not know how to feed myself.  I distinctly remember that I decided on the difficult-to-make entree named peanut butter sandwich.

After that daunting supermarket experience I eventually progressed to grilled cheese (a french delicacy), scrambled eggs, and pancakes-a-la-Camille.  I pretty much leaned on those staples for the next couple of years.  After I got married, my husband added his bachelor staples to the mix like ramen noodles and corn dogs and we were officially living off of fake, cheap, disgusting food (emphasis on fake).

Desperation leads to progress

Due to my desperation for actual food that was delicious and healthy, I began to learn to cook.  A whole new world opened up to me! A world where each recipe did NOT begin with “Cream of —-”!  Enjoying my new hobby of cooking was a surprising discovery for me. I wondered why my mom hadn’t tried harder to cook with kids when I was young.  I asked her one day. (note to y’all: It is not a great idea to ask your parents why they didn’t try harder when raising you. It always goes badly.  Always. Believe me.) Let’s just say that she laughed heartily at my question and informed me that she was always willing.  I was the problem. (This seems to be a theme in my life).

 I determined in all of my innocence that I would not make that same mistake.  I would successfully cook with my kids and teach them to fry, flambe, broil, grill and bake with the best of them!  

Then I had kids.

The end.

The things we think we know

What I did not count on (in my Scarlett O’Hara-like declaration: envision me with tears streaming down my face, clutching a fist-full of dirt and proclaiming that I would cook with my kids!) is that cooking with kids is the single hardest thing to do on this earth.  

Hands down.

Kids (of all ages) move slower than a blind, three-legged-mule.  They pepper you non-stop with questions pertaining to nothing at all or they jabber on and on about who likes who at school etc.  They throw food, eat food, declare things to be “disgusting” and touch everything you tell them not to. All this while you are trying to read a recipe and not burn the food.  Focusing on cooking while participating in a paintball competition would be easier than focusing while cooking with kids.

It wasn’t too long before I banished my kids from the kitchen and apologized to my own mom.  I decided that I had lived on peanut butter and they would too. Who cares about Scarlett O’Hara and her declarations?!?

However.

As my kids have gotten closer to leaving home, I have had pangs of guilt accost me more and more frequently.

I know there are those Unicorn Moms (UM’s) who are always showing how easy it is on Instagram.  You’ve seen them in their sparkling bright white kitchens laughing heartily with their perfectly behaved (and clean) child over a pot of coq-a-vin that they just “threw together” (#nofilter).  However, I have lived long enough to know that IF that were a true description of what had really happened there would be wine dripping from the white cupboards, the child would be crying because she has just been yelled at, the mom’s hair would be hanging in her eyes or tossed hastily into a badly-done ponytail, and the husband would be crying because it is 9pm and the stupid chicken dinner STILL isn’t ready!  We don’t need a “UM” to explain how to do this.  Moms need someone REAL!

I know there are those Unicorn Moms (UM’s) who are always showing how easy it is on Instagram.  You’ve seen them in their sparkling bright white kitchens laughing heartily with their perfectly behaved (and clean) child over a pot of coq-a-vin that they just “threw together” (#nofilter).  However, I have lived long enough to know that IF that were a true description of what had really happened there would be wine dripping from the white cupboards, the child would be crying because she has just been yelled at, the mom’s hair would be hanging in her eyes or tossed hastily into a badly-done ponytail, and the husband would be crying because it is 9pm and the stupid chicken dinner STILL isn’t ready!  I don’t need a “UM” to explain how to do this.  I need someone REAL!

Enter Hillary Hess

Hillary has seven kids.  That’s as real as it gets, people!  

She came on the scene to help us see how to EASILY include kids in cooking in a way that won’t lead to mom having a nervous breakdown before dinner is served.  Hillary graduated with a BS in Home Economics with an emphasis in Home and Family. She runs a website and podcast called “Helping of Happiness” where she shares ideas about mothering, teaching, traveling, and cooking.  She is a wonderful cook and definitely NOT a “UM”….EXACTLY the kind of person we desperately need to help us!  

1. Cook with your kids when you aren’t pressed for time.

 In other words: Don’t try this at dinner time.  Dinner time is WAY too stressful and has a time constraint.  Think weekends. Saturday mornings have really worked well for Hillary’s family.  It’s a time when she’s not stressed, no one is in a hurry, and everyone is generally a lot more rested.  If that day isn’t the right fit for you, find the one that is.

2.  Have them start helping with just a little part of the prep.  

Instead of creating a 5 course meal together, have the kids help with one of the sides.  Maybe they can peel the potatoes (start this 3 hours early since it will take that long for a child of ANY age to peel a potato), tear the lettuce, husk the corn, shred the cheese or snap the green beans.  

3.  One on one.

If at all possible, just have one of your kids help you at a time.  Not only does this keep the madness to a minimum, but it gives mom a chance to talk one on one with each child.  It’s amazing how much you can bond with a child from a small amount of time teaching them.

4.  Work it in as one of their chores after school.

This tip helps in so many ways.  First it helps to avoid kids sporadically deciding when they want to and don’t want to help.  It helps to avoid the situation when all the kids want to help at the same time (ie…madness). Hillary uses her chore chart to assign a “Chef of the Week”.  She also uses her “Chef of the Week” to head up school lunches in the mornings and occasionally takes them grocery shopping with her (so they don’t wander around the aisles in a few years with no ideas other than peanut butter).

Other ideas and links from Hillary:

Hillary offers Chore Charts through her website.  If you would like a free printable chore chart click here.

Hillary has even offered to customize a chore chart for our listeners.  To access this amazing offer, email her at Hill@helpingofhappiness.com.

5.  When you’re teaching knife skills, start soft first.

Think soft foods and butter knives.  Kids can safely learn knife skills without endangering their fingers (or yours)!   Start them out on anything spreadable or soft, like bananas. Once they master that you can move them up to foods like cucumbers that are slightly harder.  Keep gradually moving them toward harder and harder foods until they are cutting like Julia Childs….or at least just doing the job without inflicting violence on themselves and others.

6.  Teaching kids to cook helps picky eaters!

Aaahhh those picky eaters.  Nothing makes my blood boil quicker than working hard on dinner only to have your child turn their nose up at it like a Parisian Foodie.  A classic story from our family happened years ago as I confidently served dinner one night, and my (then) 4 year-old daughter looked up at me innocently and said, “Mom.  Did you know I don’t like rotten food?”   (I responded with “Well darlin’, too bad for you.  Everybody knows that Tuesday night is rotten food night at our house!”)

 So how does having kids help in the kitchen teach them to not be picky?? Hillary says that “as kids cook they smell the foods, handle the foods, and taste things as they go along.  They have a lot of pride in what they make, and it really helps my picky eaters to branch out and try foods they don’t normally go for.”

For more tips about how to handle picky eaters, sign up for Hillary’s free newsletter here.

7.  Bring a meal to a friend

Service is where it’s at, Mom Squad! (Or so we keep hearing from our MANY guests!)  Involving your kids in serving others with food teaches them gratitude for food and helps them to see their life in a “blessed” light.  You can take food to a new mom, a family who has had a death or sickness in the family, a friend that has had a bad day, a widow/ widower… the possibilities are endless.  Your kids can help with identifying people in need, thus helping them to be more invested.

Hillary mentioned a previous episode of our podcast when guest Merrilee Boyack shined a light on the power of teaching your kids service.  

To listen to Episode 56 “The Family that GIVES together…Creating a family culture of service” click here.

To purchase Merrilee’s book “52 Weeks of Fun Family Service” click on the link below:

8.  Germ lessons

Kids = Germs.  

Is there any possibility of this changing?  

According to Hillary “Cooking time can be a great time to teach kids about the need for hand washing and germ cross contamination”

(Cutting raw chicken + cutting cucumbers = green face emoji)

This kind of knowledge will benefit them and their digestive tract for the rest of their lives.

9.  Talents and gifts

“You might find that your child is a natural in the kitchen,”says Hillary.  “Cooking can help to build their confidence and their skills”. Two of my boys really started to love cooking when they were 10-ish.  That’s usually the time when boys are LOVING sports. Realizing that cooking was something they really enjoyed gave me opportunities to reward them by giving them opportunities to make breakfast or desert for the family and helped to lighten my load at the same time.  I wouldn’t have realized this if they were never near me in the kitchen.

10.  Functional as adults

One of Hillary’s main missions as a mother is to “train my kids to be independent, functional adults. My hope is that when they leave home for college, or church missions, they will already know how to do all the household tasks an adult should know how to do. I don’t want them to have to go out into the world and have to learn how to make themselves dinner, learn how to do their laundry, grocery shop, budget, etc. at the same time as being away from home for the first time. Life will be so much easier for them later on, if they are already comfortable taking care of adult tasks.”  

Hillary referenced yet another episode we did with Merrilee Boyack (she’s clearly a fan!) where she discussed raising children in this way.  

To listen to Episode 41 “Raising Kids To Be Independent Adults” click here.

To purchase Merrilee’s book “The Parenting Breakthrough:Real-Life Plan to Teach Kids to Work, Save Money, and Be Truly Independent” click on the link below:

But that’s not all folks….

Hillary had so many terrific ideas to help moms!  Another resource she offered is her link to 3 Weeks of Dinner Plans that she shared during The Mom Conference.  You don’t want to skip over this incredible resource.  Hillary is an amazing cook and has done all the prep for us.  She also included a family activity for each week. Those activities include a “Candle light dinner”, “Family Awards Night”, and “Family Game Night”.

In order to access this 3 Weeks of Dinner Plans and Family Activities, click here. Use password: familylookingup.

So, friends, apparently this is possible.  

Having someone like Hillary who has a herd of children and has found doable ways to get the kids into the kitchen without compromising our sanity or our dinner time is a definite win!  I, for one, am willing to give it another shot so that my kids have a few more options than peanut butter and pancakes!

Your friend in the mess,

Camille

MOM SQUAD CHALLENGE

Pace yourself!  Remember that your day can consist of “shift work”.  Look at the times when you are “ON” (full time mommying) and find the time when you can be “OFF” (downtime).  

Resources

Visit Hillary’s website: www.helpingofhappiness.com

Click below to listen to Hillary’s podcast:

Listen to Hillary interviewing US on Helping of Happiness, click below:

If you would like to access any of Hillary’s family activities or recipes visit her website www.helpingofhappiness.com

In order to access Hillary’s 3 Weeks of Dinner Plans and Family Activities, click here. Use password: familylookingup.

Hillary offers Chore Charts through her website.  If you would like a free printable chore chart click here.

Hillary has even offered to customize a chore chart for our listeners.  To access this amazing offer, email her at Hill@helpingofhappiness.com.

For more tips about how to handle picky eaters, sign up for Hillary’s free newsletter here.

Kids Knife Set that Beth Mentioned. Click on picture for link:

If you enjoyed this episode, check out these other episodes we have done on food and family:

Food and Kids – Guest Cheyna Palmer: Episode 3

The Food Nanny, Family Dinner, and Great Change In America – Guest The Food Nanny: Episode 12

Living With Purpose – Guest Laura Hintze: Episode 50

Herding Cats: Routine ideas that can help a mom’s craziest time of the day – Guest Whitney Archibald of “How She Moms”: Episode 54

Bagging Bargains at the Grocery Store – Guest Erin Chase of $5Dinners: Episode 63


6 Comment

  1. Thank you so much for your podcasts! I really enjoy listening to y’all and your great advice! Today I listened to Helping with Happiness, it was so good! Hilary had so many wonderful ideas about having our children cook in the kitchen with us. I appreciate her 3 week meal plan and fun ideas of making my house a little more fun! Y’all are really good at making me laugh and helping me focus on something new. Thank you so much!

    1. Donna, Thank you for taking the time to comment here! I’m so happy you are enjoying the podcast and finding it helpful (as well as getting a laugh, which is just as important!). Hillary had SO MANY good ideas that I am going to implement as well!
      Thanks again for caring and for supporting us!!

      Camille

  2. I love this episode. Hillary gave so many practical tips that any mom could implement. Love the ideas of setting a chef of the week and the family awards.

    1. Yes! I so agree Nicole! I think the family awards is pure genius….not difficult, praises good behavior, deals with problematic areas on a continual basis.
      So happy you enjoyed the episode!

      Thank you so much for your support and for commenting!

      Camille

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