My kids hate food most of the time. They like cookies and pretzels, Red Dye #4, and sugar in any form but food is not high on their priority list. It seems like the longer it takes me to cook something and the more delicious it is to a person with tastebuds more discerning than a goat’s, the less the kids can tolerate its presence in their mouths.
This isn’t always the case. Sometimes I can creatively rename a food in order to convince them to try it. Rogan Josh, an Indian beef stew I love to make, became known as “cinnamon meat” and Split Pea Soup with Ham is now, “ham soup.” (Did you know that ham was PINK!?”) They love both of these. But usually anything healthy, delicious, and time-consuming is repulsive to the little ingrates.
Sunday night, Dan and I were at a loss for something to make for dinner. “Let’s just do mac and cheese,” he suggested. But I wanted to actually make something for dinner, like a real meal that didn’t come in a box and did not contain any magical life-vest-orange mystery dust. So I decided to cook up some macaroni with homemade cheese sauce the way my dad made it when I was little.
The problem is, I’ve made it for them before and they always whine and complain because it’s “not the regular kind.” It takes about twice as long to make as the regular kind and it tastes about twice as good but they don’t want it because it’s “not the regular kiiii-hi-hiiiind.”
So last night, like the Grinch, I got an idea. I got a WONDERFUL awful idea. Maybe these kids will like it just a little bit more if they have homemade mac that they make themselves. I brought chairs into the kitchen and propped them up against the counter. Then I gave them each a job. Magoo was the little chef in charge of noodles. Laylee took on the job of head carrot steamer. All three of us worked together to make the cheese sauce.
They each got to turn on a burner. (Squee! The drama and the DANGER!) Magoo put water in a pan and watched it actually BOIL! Laylee chose how many carrots to load into the steamer basket, filled the bottom of the pan with water and checked the carrots for tender doneness.
They added butter and flour to the sauce pan, poured in the milk and helped me watch for bubbles. When it was cheese time, they inserted cheese. It did not take me any longer to make the meal with their help and I was shocked at how much we all enjoyed it. There was a little more danger, though. I had to keep repeating words like “hot” and “careful” and “for seriously real be careful it’s hot and you’ll burn your hand off.”
But when we were done, they ate their dinner up quickly, bragging about what a great job they’d done and asking if we could make dinner together every night from now on. Laylee even started offering suggestions of foods we could make together this week.
There’s something magical about ownership. When the kids help with the chores and realize that invisible elves aren’t going to always do all the work for them, they’re more inclined to help keep the house clean afterward. When they’re involved in the meal planning and prep and they know how much work it takes, they’re less likely to whine about eating it and talk about how disgusting it is.
The food gets eaten and appreciated, I have company while I’m cooking, and all the peasants rejoice.