Too many cooks in the kitchen

I have often read how parents should include children in the preparation of meals, as they are more likely to eat what they’ve helped create. It makes sense to me, but I’ve never really tried it. Sure, I’ve spent many frigid January afternoons in the kitchen with both kids standing on chairs, helping me make chocolate chip cookies. Just yesterday, my 3-year old spread peanut butter and jelly on bread for her lunch.

But when it comes to preparing dinner during that dreaded 5 o’clock hour, I just can’t bring myself to enlist the help of my two young children. By that time of day, they are inevitably tired and wiggly, and seem to have lost the ability to follow simple instructions. So, instead of having them help out in the kitchen, I usually get them going on an art project or encourage them to play animal hospital together while I get out the sharp knives and chop vegetables.

Today, however, I was motivated to prepare dinner while my 3-year old was eating lunch (which seems to take all afternoon). I scrubbed and chopped two pounds of carrots for soup while she chattered on about her toy hedgehog and tried to hide under the counter. Then she reached into the bowl and pulled out a piece of carrot. “I can eat this?” she asked, very sweetly. “Well, it’s for dinner, but I guess you can have one,” I replied.

While I continued chopping, she shyly stole more carrot pieces, feeling like she was doing something sneaky. I was ecstatic — I had never before seen this child voluntarily eat a carrot, even though I often serve them with hummus at lunch. But watching me cut the carrots and not offer her a piece somehow inspired her to try them out.

I’m still not ready to employ my wiggly little ones as assistant chefs, but I have decided to gather up some late-day patience and find ways to help them feel included in the dinner-making process. Even if it means I have to “let” them sneakily eat those healthy ingredients!

Jen McNally moved to Maine from Colorado four years ago, in search of a simpler, more natural lifestyle. Since then, she has planted her first-ever vegetable garden, raised a flock of six hens, and continues to learn about healthy living. She is a stay-at-home mother of two active girls, ages five and three. In her former life, she studied in Germany for two years, traveled to 6 continents and 31 countries, and was the marketing manager for an adventure travel company. Jen contributes regularly to the Guiding Stars blog.