For me, the most challenging aspect of cooking with the kids is the planning required to make it happen in a way that allows us to actually enjoy our time together, rather than have our sessions resemble a particularly nasty episode of “Hell’s Kitchen”. I am comfortable enough in the kitchen that the “teaching” part of our time together is not normally where we’re challenged. Our struggle rather, is managing the family cooking calendar to allow each of the kids the opportunity to cook every week, while being sensitive to everyone’s increasingly busy personal schedules. I know I’m not alone in this. In fact, I was catching up with an old friend last week, and she told me that her biggest challenge in cooking for her family is that she generally doesn’t even think about dinner until 6:00 each evening. At that point, there is little to do but grab a pre-cooked meal at the market, or call out for delivery. Advance planning is a big part of being successful as a home cook, and absolutely critical to getting your kids to engage with you in the kitchen.
I am finding that there are really three aspects of planning required to successfully cook with your kids. The first has to do with just being prepared to cook at home, period. If you are in the habit of eating out, or ordering take-out frequently, and therefor unaccustomed to planning for home cooked meal prep, then your first challenge will be to set aside a time every few days to look forward in your week, dream up some dinner menus, build a shopping list, and get to the market. When I lived in France, this was a daily routine for me (as it is for many of the French), and I would do daily grocery shopping for my family each evening when walking home from school. I would pass a butcher, fishmonger, baker, cheese merchant, a produce stall, and finally, a fab little wine shop, all on my way home each day. Being a total food nut, this daily commute was a little piece of heaven for me, and is one of the things I miss most about living in France. Here, I find that planning meals for a three day block of time works best for me. I never go to the market without buying goods for three evenings worth of dinners. Anything less and it feels like I’m at the market all the time, anything more and the freshness of my ingredients suffer. The only thing I’m not comfortable holding for a few days is seafood, which I always use on the day of purchase.