I’m reading How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims. The book details how parents today do way too much for their kids. There are various reasons for this, including nonstop extracurricular activities and school work. The problem is when kids leave home, they know how to get an A on a test and kick a soccer ball, but lack the vital life skills they will need to use every day.
And one of those important life skills is knowing their way around a kitchen.
Before reading this book, I had been getting my kids (6 and 8) in the kitchen more. But now I’m motivated to take this to a new level. So here are 5 changes I’m making to boost their independence in the kitchen. You may need to tone it up or down based on the age of your kid.
1. Make tableware accessible
It dawned me that while I’m cooking dinner, I hand my kids plates to set the table. That’s because they cannot reach the plates and cups – and if they use a stool they get in my way. So I changed things around and put plates, cups, and bowls in the lower cabinet, making them easier for the kids to reach. Here are some things they can do as a result of this change.
- Set the table by themselves from start to finish.
- Help unload the dishwater.
- Get water/drinks for themselves.
2. Organize your kitchen with kids in mind
I’ve organized my kitchen to make it easier to teach my children about food and where everything goes. For example, I arrange my cabinets by food groups: grains (bread/crackers/rice), protein (beans, nuts, canned tuna/fish), fruits and veggies (canned veggies/tomatoes, dried fruit) and fun food (chocolate or anything sweet). Here’s some things they can do as a result of this change.
- Make their own simple snack by choosing from 2-3 different food groups.
- Help put away groceries.
- Older children can help make grocery lists by running through what is needed (It helps to have handy lists on cabinets with what needs to be stocked).
3. Have them make a simple meal per week
I still allow my kids to choose dinner on Wednesdays because the hubs works late and it’s a nice break in the routine. But now it’s not just kids’ choice, but kids make. I’m no longer getting the ingredients for them, they have to do it all start to finish. I’m there to help but not lead (with a glass of wine in hand — it’s my night off!). For more on cooking skills kids need to know see this Super Healthy Kids post.
4. Cut, pour and serve themselves:
I realized that I was still cutting my kids meat and pouring their milk (those big jugs are heavy!). If they spill, they learn how to handle it better next time. Now they are doing all these things themselves with guidance from me. In How to Raise an Adult, Lythcott-Haims recommends this easy strategy for teaching kids any new skill:
- Watch me do it: Have children watch you once or twice, explaining how you do it.
- Let’s do it together: Assist them a few times.
- I watch you do it: Watch and provide feedback until they can do it independently.
5. Teach kids how to do the dishes
Doing dishes is the household chore I most despise. It would help both my kids and my husband and me to have more helpers. Big A is learning how to rinse dishes off and load them in the dishwasher. Once she masters that, I will teach her how to wash pots, pans and other items that don’t go in the dishwasher. When Little D seems ready, he’ll be next.
Not all kids adapt to these new responsibilities with a joyful attitude. I’ve dealt with this resistance by explaining the importance of learning life skills, showing empathy (I know it’s hard and partly my fault for not having you do it sooner – you’ll get it!), setting up kitchen tasks as part the normal routine and staying consistent with expectations.
School is starting back up very soon but I’m keeping my priorities straight. Homework and kids’ activities are not more important than learning life skills. There has to be room for them all.
Do you work on independence in the kitchen? Any ideas to share?
For more tips on how to get kids involved at meals check out my book The Family Dinner Solution