CANDY ALLAN: Let them bake cake

When the kids were younger, my husband worked second shift and wasn’t home at dinner time.

Trying to help with homework, shuttle everyone wherever they had to be and make dinner fast enough to get the kids in bed at a reasonable hour led me to cutting corners — frozen pizza, frozen lasagna and hot dogs made the menu quite often.

Once in a while, Nathan or Bailey would decide they wanted to be helpful.

“Mommy, can I make supper tonight? You look tired and then you can rest.”

“Aw, honey, that’s sweet. Sure, you can make supper.”

So we would dine on gourmet selections such as toast or crackers spread with peanut butter and served alongside a bowl of Cheerios. One night everyone had a spoonful of peanut butter and four or five baby carrots as we shared a bag of microwave popcorn. (Don’t judge — popcorn is a vegetable, right?)

Since my husband has a more traditional schedule now, he’s taken over most of the dinner preparation at night while I handle homework.

It’s safe to say some foods my husband and I like to eat — for example, fish — are not a big hit with the kids. If they could, they’d likely live on Kraft mac and cheese, hot dogs, hamburgers and chips.

In our house, the cook makes the decision on what’s for dinner. When we have meals the kids don’t really like, they would tell us in that oh-so-subtle way children have: “Yuck! I don’t like fish!”

Or, thanks to shows like MasterChef, we’d hear, “Well, it tastes all right, but the plating isn’t very good.”

New rule: No criticizing dinner.

Constructive feedback is allowed — suggesting more salt, or peas instead of broccoli, or whatever — but no complaining.

Along with the new rule, the kids get a turn in the kitchen. They get the same control over dinner we do as parents with the restriction they have to offer a meal that’s at least somewhat balanced. Deciding everyone is going to have pie for dinner isn’t going to fly, but you can make hot dogs and chips and get away with it.

They love it.

I suspect part of the appeal is the fact the cook doesn’t have to do the dishes that night, but they enjoy cooking. Granted, I eat more macaroni and cheese than I’d like, but they’re pretty good about mixing up the menu.

Unlike when they were small, the food is even tasty — tacos, spaghetti and chef salad have graced the table under their watch.

Before you ask, yes, we still supervise the activity. Neither of them is tall enough to drain the water from spaghetti safely into the sink and we make sure the hamburger is completely cooked before they add it to the sauce.

But for the most part, it’s fairly smooth. Even popping in and out of the kitchen, it’s surprising how much more Bob and I can get done in the evening when one of the kids takes care of dinner.

They’ve developed an appreciation for the effort cooking takes. We’re getting more done in less time.

Everybody wins.

Let’s be honest, I’ve been making up this parenting thing as I go along ever since my son was born. I know there’s more experienced parents out there and folks with different ideas. Respond to my column by emailing me at callan@pioneergroup.com, and you might see your thoughts in print in an upcoming issue of the Pioneer.

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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