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How much time do you spend in the kitchen? One hour a day? 2, 3, 4? The average American actually spends 400 hours a year in the kitchen! Think of all the things you could do in 400 hours? Master a new language, instrument, build a business? But, it's not as easy as it sounds to eliminate kitchen time while ensuring our kids are nourished with nutritious and delicious food.
You either spend hours a day on home-cooked hearty meals or resort to microwave dinosaur nuggets, right? No. Like all things, it's about striking a balance between the two. Luckily, I've found a model that's worked wonders for my family: allowing me to re-coup precious time each day while maintaining my children's nutrition.
So, let's dive into 'The Busy Parent's Guide to Cooking', shall we?
Get the Kids Involved
Back in 2020, like many of you, my kitchen became my second office. Running a full-time business and trying to make sure my kids were eating nutritious meals wasn't an easy feat. I mean, I love a good frozen chicken nugget, but there's only so much you can serve before guilt sets in, right? 😅
Fast forward to today, and we've got a fantastic system in place - a kitchen-sharing model with the entire family. Gone are the days of mom and dad sweating over the stove 7 days a week. Instead, we've embraced a dynamic kitchen-sharing model that involves every member of our household. Trust me when I say, it's been a game-changer!
But, it's not easy or effective to simply assign your kids a meal to cook and hope it all turns out well. In fact, there's quite a bit of effort that goes into effectively implementing this model into your family's lifestyle. Don't start the 'shared-kitchen' model without these 3 critical guidelines:
Don't: Make Cooking a Chore
Cooking should be a fun activity, not a chore. Spend time together brainstorming recipes, take them to the grocery store, and let them pick out their ingredients. Get them excited about the process!
Don't: Leave Them on Their Own
While it's great to let them take the lead, always be there to support. My kids are aged 14, 17, and 18, and each have vastly different levels of kitchen preparation and ambition. My daughter enjoys having the kitchen to herself with headphones in, and never fails to produce a delicious pasta dish. My son on the other hand loves very fancy meals with hot plates and 'mocktails'. With the complexity of his dishes, he occasionally gets in over his head with too many pots on the stove or half-cooked meat experiments. While the goal is to teach your kids independence and critical kitchen skills, you should never leave them alone. Take this time to teach them good cooking and cleaning practices. As long as they're not asking you to take over, always be ready to offer a helping hand, whether it be cutting the onions or manning a pan. It's all about learning and growing together.
DO: Designate One Night to Each Family Member
To start setting up this model in your family, whip our a weekly calendar. After accounting for sports, music, and other activities, identify days each kid is available to lead. Start with one night per kid - this keeps things low-intensity and manageable.
Do: Appreciate the Effort, Not Just the Result
Remember, your kids aren't professional chefs (yet!). The fastest way to discourage your child's participating is negative comments from other family members, whether intentional or not. A quick side-bar with your stressed-out spouse before dinner can help ensure a positive atmosphere. And always encourage your other kids to focus on compliments, not ill-intended jokes or criticism.
PRO TIP: Music can cultivate a positive and joyful kitchen atmosphere. Get a small speaker (or use your phone's) and let your kids play their favorite songs while they cook - I promise they'll enjoy the experience that much more. (you can use music to set a specific atmosphere during dinner).
PRO TIP 2: Before you implement your family's new plan, make an effort to slowly involved your kids in your next cooking-sesh. Turn on some music on a Friday afternoon and invite your 'bored' son to help cut some onions. When they have such a great time helping out, it makes it that much easier to let them eventually take the lead.
The Best Solution is Preparation
Loyal readers know one of my favorite mantras: "The best solution is preparation." Well, when it comes to meal planning, truer words were never spoken. It might sound like a cliché, but trust me, it's a tried-and-true strategy for ensuring nutritious, efficient, and downright delicious meals on your table. But here's the twist: our meal planning approach is anything but ordinary; it's a family affair!
Together We Plan, Together We Feast 💛
Every Sunday, we embark on a culinary adventure together. Picture this: the entire family gathers around, recipe books scattered across the table, and Google searches in full swing to uncover scrumptious yet easy-to-make dishes. It's like a mini foodie festival! Each family member gets to pick their favorite recipe for the week, and that's where the fun begins.
Grocery List Galore 📝🛒
As we discover our culinary destinies, we collaborate on creating a comprehensive shopping list. This list becomes our trusty guide for the week ahead. No more last-minute trips to the grocery store; we're armed with a plan! And to keep everything in sync, we meticulously document each kid's selected date on the calendar, making sure we're all on the same page.
PRO TIP: Keep a list of basic staples your family needs every week. For us, that's rolled oats, gluten-free bread, blueberries, bananas, and yoghurt. Start each grocery trip with these essentials.
Prep Like a Pro 🥗🥪🍳
But wait, there's more! We're not just talking about prepping dinners here. We've taken it up a notch. We prepare breakfasts, snacks, lunches, and after-school snacks too. Why? Because you can never be too prepared when it comes to satisfying hungry tummies and ensuring everyone stays energized throughout the day.
Our meal planning approach is all about fostering family togetherness, empowering our young chefs, and making sure everyone is well-fed and happy. One great part about collaborative meal prep: when everyone makes the decisions together, no one has the right to complain about the latest snacks and dinners! It's a recipe for success both in and out of the kitchen! 💪🍽️🧑🍳
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Ever thought about borrowing a page from the playbook of factories and manufacturing plants to streamline your kitchen operations?
As many of you know, I spent a few years in the food manufacturing industry. In that time, I picked up a few strategies that have helped me maximize my kitchen:
Bulk Assembly for the Win 🧅🍉
Think about it—when car manufacturers create vehicles, they don't build each part individually and then put them together. No, they mass-produce car parts and assemble them later. So why not apply this principle to your meal preparation? Picture this: you're making a stir-fry for dinner, and instead of frantically chopping onions and peppers at the last minute, you've got them ready to go in your fridge. It's a time-saver and a sanity-saver! Spend some quality time on the weekend doing the prep work, and you'll thank yourself all week long.
Label Your Way to Efficiency 🏷️
Have you ever spent what feels like an eternity searching for that elusive ingredient in your pantry or fridge? We've all been there, and it's not fun. Here's a simple yet effective tip: label your fridge and pantry. It takes just a few seconds but can save you loads of time and preserve your mental sanity. Imagine not having to dig around for that baking soda when you need it most. Trust me, a little organization goes a long way.
PRO TIP: We keep re-usable containers next to all the snacks to minimize waste from plastic wrappers. Intelligent design is a topic for another day, but intentionally curate your kitchen to encourage good habits (healthy foods in the front of the fridge) and discourage bad (only buying small quantities of junk food each week and keeping them at the bottom of the pantry).
Harness Your Family's Superpowers 🦸♂️🦸♀️
A few months ago, my youngest daughter developed a fascination with cutting fruits and vegetables. Fast forward to today, and she's the designated watermelon and vegetable slicer in our kitchen. Embrace these unique skills within your family! Just like in a manufacturing facility, leverage each person's superpowers. By doing so, you not only get better results but also keep everyone happy and engaged in the culinary journey.
It's all about cooking smarter, not harder, and turning meal preparation into a well-oiled machine! 🛠️🍽️
Wrapping it up...
Cooking is not just about putting food on the table; it's an opportunity to bond, learn, and have a whole lot of fun with your loved ones. From getting your kids involved in the kitchen to embarking on a culinary adventure with meal planning, and even taking a page from the industrial world to streamline your cooking process, these strategies can transform your family's relationship with food.
What did you think of this week's article? Have a strategy that's worked well for your family?
Leave a comment and let me know!
Until next time, happy cooking and even happier family moments!