I remember enough years ago that I had only young tots that a more experienced mother lamented, "Everyone thinks I have it easier in the kitchen now because I have older kids now, but I still have to cook for eight people three times a day!" At the time, I didn't quite get it because I echoed in my mind, "Yeah, but you've got helpers, so it's got to be easy!"
Each phase of cooking dinner for a family is a different kind of challenge.For so long, I had only "littles," and I was utterly exhausted by dinner time, so it was easier to let the TV babysit and give myself that hour in the kitchen in peace and quiet.
Right now, my challenge is from having a big bunch of ages (needs). There are still a baby and toddler who needs supervising, there are still children who will fight if left to their own devices, and now there are older children who could be helpful, who need to learn how to cook competently, and also who could fight if left to their own devices.
|Five-year-old can cook his own eggs except for lighting the gas range|
Lately during the dinner hour, I am finding myself newly overwhelmed and cooking my simple meals is taking unreasonably long, so I thought about what I needed and I've been making it happen.
I show up in the kitchen around 4:00 for a 5:30 dinner. You'd think I could prepare something gourmet in that amount of time, but this is just for something simple like Taco Night or Spaghetti Feed.
Step 1. Send all the kids doing their two afternoon chores to pick up the house. In addition, my five-year-old should empty the clean dishwasher, if all goes according to plan, and I'm bustling around the kitchen picking up from the day, or nursing the baby so he will last more contentedly while I cook.
Step 2. Assign my Three Big Helpers for the evening--not one, not two, but three. (This is what is new for me.)
One child is my sous-chef for the evening. I might pick the child because he is cooking one of the dishes he knows how to cook for that night, or just because I want some time with that child.
One child is the dedicated babysitter of the 11-month-old, and no other kids should play in the room they are in.
One child is in charge of setting the table, a chore which also involves clearing any last school supplies or detritus from the table.
That leaves the (almost) 3- and 5-year-olds, and I'm still very willing to pop them in front of the television as an electronic babysitter. (I discovered a few years ago that I really do have the authority to allow the little tykes to sit before the television and disallow the older kids . . . even if they have no chores to do "just because it rots your brain and you are capable of entertaining yourself or reading a book." Yes, many tears ensue, and that develops character.)
Step 3. Cook the meal. Impart lots of cooking instruction to my sous-chef.
Step 4. After the meal, they all have their assigned clean-up chores--if everything goes according to plan! (Which it did not on Taco Tuesday, when, after dinner, Dad and two kids left on a special bike ride, and the two oldest left on a separate bike ride, and I was left with a huge mess, so I just decided to blog instead.) We are still at the stage where I must remain in the kitchen 'directing traffic' for the entire clean-up, or it will not happen.