Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
Dear Dr. Debbie,
I get home from work at 4:30 with my preschooler. The other two, ages 8 and 11, have been home alone since 3:15 and 4:20 respectively. I try to give each one of them a little attention before attending to fixing dinner, but inevitably one of them will interrupt me in the kitchen with a complaint about his or her sibling. Yesterday I heard screaming and found the eight-year-old and four-year-old in a wrestling match over the TV remote.
How can I get dinner on the table any faster?
Dear Likes Homecooking,
I’m in your corner. Homecooked meals have more to offer both economically and nutritionally, and have the potential for even more.
Have you considered apprenticing your children as cooks? This reduces the squabbling by A) taking one sibling out of squabbling range and B) giving positive attention to the apprentice in the kitchen. It can also be an opportunity for a starving child to nibble a little, staving off cranky behavior due to hunger. Further benefits include a closer parent-child bond as you share cooking tips, family recipes, and family stories while creating memories your children can pass on to future generations. My mother’s tales of her childhood kitchen included how her mother made gefilte fish from scratch and descriptions of her grandmother’s homemade noodles being stretched out to dry. At first it may take a bit longer when you include your children in the cooking chores, but research suggests that they will quickly catch on and your dinner prep time (as well as sibling squabbling) will be trimmed.
I recall my mother doling out jobs to the five of us, calling one or two away to the kitchen at a time:
Salad maker (for the younger child, this means ripping lettuce leaves)
Noodle tester (too crunchy and they have to boil longer)
Corn husker (usually done in the back yard)
Vegetable placer (potatoes and carrots around the pot roast)
Frozen vegetable opener (frozen peas – still frozen – turned out to be my son’s favorite vegetable)
Meatball maker (valuable training I use to this day)
During dinner, we sometimes had a job called Hopper which my sisters and I had learned about at Girl Scout camp. One child is responsible for going back and forth to the kitchen for forgotten items during the meal.
After dinner there were turns taken for Table clearers and Dishwashers.
Here are some webistes to browse on the subject of children helping with dinner prep:
Discusses a research project pairing parent and middle schooler for a six-week cooking class.
Shares readers’ comments and tips for harmonious and healthy family dinner times.
Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at www.drdebbiewood.com
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