Why I Make My Kids Plan and Cook Dinner

When I plan family dinner menus every week, I try to have my kids each pick a meal they want to eat. The catch is that they have to help prepare and cook their individually chosen meals for our family. I have two children ages 10 and 6, so they each spend at least one night a week in the kitchen cooking with my help and supervision. We’ve had some interesting culinary experiences.

Why I Make My Kids Cook
Making fresh-squeezed homemade lemonade at ages 6 and 10.

I make my kids plan meals and cook dinner for several reasons:

It teaches them how to cook.

Why I Make My Kids Cook
Making deviled eggs at ages 5 and 9, using a children’s cookbook from the library.

Knowing how to cook and how to turn basic ingredients into delicious and nutritious meals is a valuable skill today, especially when families are busy and it seems like there are half a dozen restaurants and fast food venues on every city corner. It’s easier for many families to make a pass through the burger drive through rather than plan and cook a meal at home, but it’s essential to take time to teach children skills like cooking. No one wants a generation to grow up not knowing how to cook anything besides boxed mac and cheese or toast, and eating out is less healthy and more expensive (even if you’re just getting fast food) compared to cooking at home. Teach your kids how to cook. Your children — and their budgets — will thank you for it when they grow up.

It makes my job planning meals easier.

Why I Make My Kids Cook
My youngest making dough for homemade hot pockets at age 5.

I love to cook and have prepared many meals over the years, but sometimes I have trouble figuring out what to make each week. I get overwhelmed by all the choices or I can’t decide what I feel like eating. It’s easier for me, and kind of fun, to hand my kids a cookbook (either one I own or one checked out from the public library) or to let them browse my Pinterest boards and have them pick what they want to make. I like seeing what they pick, and they often select dishes I wouldn’t have chosen myself such as homemade hot pockets or lasagna rollups, which are a little time-consuming (that hot pocket dough has to be made from scratch, and we have to cook, fill, and roll the lasagna noodles), but these different recipes get me out of my cooking rut and help us all learn or develop new cooking skills. Other kid-picked favorites in my house include homemade baked fish sticks, corn dog bites, a French toast bake with caramel sauce made from scratch and with smoothies to drink, stuffed Mexican shells, and shrimp fettuccine. (My oldest is a pasta lover.)

Everybody gets to eat what they like … at least sometimes.

Why I Make My Kids Cook
Octopus Macaroni and Cheese!

My 6-year-old is a picky eater, but allowing her to choose a meal and help make it one time a week ensures that she gets to eat exactly what she wants once in a while. It does mean we sometimes eat unusual dishes like octopus mac and cheese made with hot dogs cut into long slits to look like octopus tentacles (we made it with homemade mac and cheese rather than boxed Kraft). But it’s nice to keep meal times fun, right?

Do your kids help in the kitchen or plan meals?

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