Updated: Mar 16, 2021
Growing up, I did a lot of the cooking for our family because at some point it was declared that whoever helped cook the meals didn't have to clean up afterward. I don't remember how my dad started teaching me how to cook or what the first lessons entailed, but I do remember his stories of his mom coming home from working as a lunch lady (back when school lunches were homemade by ladies named Opal who wore aprons over polyester dresses) and bringing her four blue eyed babies plus numerous foster children into the kitchen to teach them the generational life skills she figured out when she got married at 15. She worked all day to help provide for her family, then came home to any number of children and she'd show them things like knife safety, caring for your equipment, cleaning up after yourself, and cooking from scratch. She cared for her gleaming, matte black cast iron pans which she eventually passed down to her children, and I even have one in my own kitchen.
My dad brought those life skills into his marriage and did most of the cooking while my parents raised their own blue eyed babies. It was important to him, as it was to my Granny, to teach both boys and girls to cook because it was a form of providing for themselves and their families that shouldn't need to be defined by gender. I was proud to come into my relationship with Josh, even before we were married, with the skills to feed us as well as create the connection that happens over meals. When we in college, Josh was working as an apprentice electrician about an hour away from where we were going to school, and found himself sleeping on a friend's couch every weekend and eating lots of fast food. He crunched the numbers and found that he could pay for all of our groceries for both of us for less than he was spending on fast food in a week, so he bribed his sweet girlfriend with grocery money in exchange for a couple of hearty meals and per week, and this broke waitress took him up on it.
Around the time I started cooking for him he requested my dad's chili, so I copied down the recipe while talking to my dad on the phone. I knew recipes were a bit of a stretch for my dad because we tended to cook without them, but I trusted my gut and acquired the ingredients (the venison was easier to find than the beer I needed for the recipe since I was only 19, but we got what we needed). I had shredded cheese, Fritos, and sour cream to top it off because I was feeling extra, and I felt so confident in myself that Josh invited a friend over for supper. We sat down to eat and my gut apparently thought I needed about five times more salt than the recipe called for. We piled on cheese and sour cream and ate it anyway. I mentioned that we were pretty broke, so we definitely ate it all over the course of the weekend.
I mean, that's funny. Josh still teases me about it, but I learned a few things from that: salt slowly, taste as you cook, and don't try out new recipes on friends.
When we got married, I stacked our registry with all of the kitchen supplies I didn't yet have and upgraded the cheap things I had bought as I needed them. I was so excited for my wifely duty of filling Josh's belly with homecooked meals, and only gave him the side-eye for a few minutes when he told me he'd like to eat supper at six every night. My family ate at dark after working outside all evening, so shooting for supper at six was HARD and almost 13 years later, I still only get it done maybe once a week. It was pretty lovely, cooking for my husband in our little white house in the country.
Now, I get to set the foundation for memories like these for my kids, and it tickles me pink to get to do this. For years, I've had a list of things I wanted my kids to know, things like how to make biscuits from scratch, how to buy groceries on a budget, and how to order a side of beef. I mean, learning about prepositions is important, but have you ever eaten a homemade flakey biscuit with home canned strawberry jelly? Last spring when the kids were sent home from school, I found myself consistently praying "God, what do I do with them?" and He gave me this list: read out loud, play outside, and do life together.
So we squeaked out a daily routine with those three things as priorities; really I was just trying to de-school but I didn't know it at the time. After scheduling each kid to one night a week of helping in the kitchen, it quickly turned into their favorite chore and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I mean, I love to cook but I tried to get it done quickly on weeknights just because we had to pack things into our evenings. When we suddenly had less going on, it made it easier to invite the kids into the kitchen and take the time to teach them the normal life skills they will need someday. Now that they've had the foundation, it is actually a help to have them in the kitchen and Lily (11) is able to prepare some meals completely by herself.
She started with helping with cookies or baked things, then progressed to peeling potatoes, then chopping carrots, and learning about meat and cross contamination and it was all school but neither of us knew it. The younger kids were washing fruits and veggies and seasoning meat and making overnight oats. All four kids gained confidence in the kitchen in leaps and bounds, and after getting the inital kitchen rules down and they understood that they could do it, it was actually a help having them in the kitchen.
You're probably imagining this natural and lovely experience with a super patient mom and extremely obedient kids, and it was absolutely not that at all. Sometimes momma was hangry and one kid had to help on a different night or they had to learn how to heat up leftovers. Kids in our house are probably wearing their gymnastics leotards and not cute netural clothing. And sometimes kids were whiney and they had to do an extra chore like clean up the table and wipe it instead of helping with supper. But friend, it was worth it.
Tonight I watched Lily confidently pound out round steaks for chicken fried steaks with her Papa, expertly bread and fry the succulent beef, peel potatoes, and watch Papa make gravy. My dad has always high fived the person at suppertime who helped him cook, and Lily beamed as they air fived across the table. And months of training and one on one time paid off.
So what's on that list for you? What are the non-"real" school things that are important enough to you that you want your kids to know how to do? Let's chat about it in my DMs! Also - I created a kit for getting started with your kids in the kitchen. Subscribe here for the free download. Love ya!