One Simple Trick to Learn how to Cook for My Kids!
I got divorced.
In the period leading up to our separation, my wife and I were, understandably, not doing a whole lot together. Part of the fallout from this was that only one of us would be entirely responsible for cooking for the kids, an activity that we used to share. Given all that was going on, this was treated as an imposition at best. We fell into the habit of running to the store at the last minute for a few microwavable meals, then heating them up and dropping them in front of the children at dinner time. Not exactly a Norman Rockwell painting, is it?
After the separation, I made the effort to do a little better by the kiddos and started buying canned veggies, chicken patties, sandwich meats, and the like. I put together a weekly menu crafted out of the things I knew they would eat. This lasted until I bragged about it to the wrong person.
I have a friend that is a professional Nutritionist. She makes her living creating menus for Home Health Care, Hospice, and other diet-restricted clients. I’d been helping her with a kitchen layout (I majored in Interior Design back when the Earth was cooling) when I told her I had to cut it short to go fix supper. She asked what I was making, and the answer – spaghetti and meatballs (from a can) – underwhelmed her. In my protests, I laid out the whole week’s menu, and her reply changed my entire approach. She said:
I was floored. She was absolutely right. I’d taken the same sugars, preservatives, and fillers we’d been getting from the frozen meals, and had just spread them out among different packages to be reassembled. I felt like the most incompetent dad ever. I may as well have been cutting out the pictures on the boxes and serving those.
Fortunately, this conversation happened right after I’d gone shopping, so I had a month to come up with something different. I bribed my friend with a meal at her favorite restaurant if she would come over and critique my pantry. Here’s what I learned:
Don’t Negotiate with Terrorists
Most kids are picky eaters, but mine are on the Autism spectrum, so they are extra-resistant to change. If I didn’t involve them in the process, I was going to fail, so over the next few dinners, I asked them what kind of meals they thought they might enjoy. We leafed through cookbooks and remembered good food we’d had in the past. I made it clear that while I would accommodate special requests, they were not going to get pizza and chicken nuggets all month. Sometimes their choices would be “eat it or be hungry.” If your kids help plan, they’re more likely to roll with it.
Put together your menu first. Once that’s done, you’ll know the ingredients and tools you’ll require, the cooking techniques you’ll need to be familiar with, and the time it’ll take to prep and cook each meal. Sometimes that will determine when you’ll fix a certain dish. If something needs to be cooked at 250° for five hours, don’t schedule it for the day you won’t get home until six p.m. Make a list of everything you’re going to buy. I use a note-taking app that syncs between my computer and phone, so I draw up the list at home and when I’m out, I can note prices and sales for the different ingredients right on the list. Eventually, you’ll get a good idea of which stores have the best prices on various items and you can plan your shopping trips accordingly.
When I budget for my groceries, I always leave a little extra so I can pick up any last-minute or “want to try” or unexpected sale items during the month. I have a huge dry-erase board mounted in the kitchen, and I use it to keep track of things I’ve run out of or want to buy. I also have our menu listed by day, so I never get the “what’s for dinner?” question, and I can jot down when I need to defrost or marinate something, keep track of “use by” dates, etc.
Share with me some of your cooking tips? How have you engaged the kids in family meal prep?
Chris Coleman is a professional freelance writer, part-time Disaster Preparedness instructor, and full-time Single Dad. He bakes, sews, chauffeurs, helps with homework, distributes praise and punishment as the situation warrants, separates Legos, heroically kills spiders, and writes Urban Fantasy Noir. He enjoys playing full-contact backgammon, collecting obscure words and bad pickup lines, and making terrible puns. He lives in central North Carolina and plans to get some sleep Real Soon Now.