Managing Your Kitchen and Your Child’s Education

One of the benefits of homeschooling our children is the opportunity to teach them the nitty gritty of home management. A very useful lifelong skill.

This is especially important in the kitchen. Thanks to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and others who are sounding the alarm, we’re becoming aware of how little the average child knows about food – where it comes from and how to prepare it.

As homemakers and homeschoolers we have the power to create a healthier reality for our children. The time we spend in the kitchen with and around our children is not a distraction to their learning but an important part of it.

But let’s be real. Preparing three healthy meals (don’t forget snacks) each day and homeschooling is not always easy.

Both home education and eating well take time and though it may seem these two are in competition with each other, they aren’t.

I’d like to share some of my strategies for maximizing time in the kitchen. These methods enable me to both teach my children the importance of good food and spend time on their other educational needs.

1. Menu planning is your friend.

So much has been written on the topic of menu planning and I do not need to repeat it here. Simple Bites has an entire category devoted to the subject of menu planning to help you get started.

I menu plan early in the week as part of my household chores. This coincides with when I also buy the bulk of our groceries.

As homeschoolers my goal is to teach these skills to my children so I seek their input about what they’d like to eat. I will ask for their ideas but often have to spread them out through the weeks because they choose lots of starch, and as the mom I need to include veggies too!

Photo by Renee Tougas

2. Involve the kids as much as possible.

The beauty of homeschooling is living, cooking and eating together–not just teaching our children at home instead of sending them to school.

My kids have been “working” with me in the kitchen since they were old enough to toddle next to the dishwasher and slobber on the clean dishes in the bottom tray.

Have your kids help with whatever tasks are age-appropriate (they can probably do more than you think).

Jamie wrote this great post about involving younger children in the kitchen.  My seven-year-old now has enough experience to wash the veggies, chop with real knives, stir the soup, fetch from the fridge and dump scraps in the compost.

My ten-year-old can cook a meal almost unassisted, though we’ve learned she prefers to have us with her for company–It’s more pleasurable to cook together.

Take the time to train your children in the kitchen with you. It’s worth the extra effort; it’s an important part of their education.

Photo by Renee Tougas

3. Schedule your working time in the kitchen.

Each homeschooling family has their own approach to daily homeschool life. But regardless of your methods, educating your children at home takes time.

We don’t have all day to spend in the kitchen so I need to maximize the time we do spend. To do this I designate specific times for focused kitchen work.

I schedule this time around our three daily meals. Some homemakers may prefer batch cooking or other concentrated work times.

On-task time in the kitchen is for planning, food preparation and clean up. This is not the time for answering e-mails, cleaning the house or doing laundry.

Staying on task helps us get out of the kitchen and onto other activities like morning math lessons, backyard science or reading together.

Please note that my children are no longer wee ones. When I had littles I scheduled longer periods of time for kitchen work so I was available for the inevitable interruptions. Conversely my children’s schooling needs were minimal so I had more time for distractions in the kitchen.

4. Accept your limitations.

In this season of life I am choosing to keep things simple in the kitchen–though that doesn’t mean I feed my family from packages.

I specialize in one pot wonders. Soups, stews, meal salads, stir-fry recipes, and noodle dishes. Beans, rice, grains and vegetables cooked up together in interesting and healthy ways to nourish body and soul. This is not my life season for gourmet meal preparation.

Other homeschooling families use crockpots, get Dad on board with meal prep or batch cook for homemade and quick weekday suppers.

If cooking is your thing, by all means go for it (with gusto).

But it’s okay to keep things simple if cooking is not your passion. Simple does not have to mean unhealthy.  It can be uncomplicated meals of basic nutritious ingredients, lovingly put together.

Photo by Renee Tougas

Teaching our children to menu plan, peel vegetables, follow a recipe, set the table and wash dishes is part of the curriculum, not separate from it. Raising a generation of healthy children with food knowledge and skills is worth all the time spent together in the kitchen.

What strategies do you use to feed your family and homeschool your children at the same time?

About Renee

Renee is a creative homemaker and homeschooling mama of three. She loves to write, take pretty photos, and be in nature with her family. Her mission is to nourish, encourage, and teach; build relationship and create beauty. FIMBY is where she tells that story. Drawing from her years of experience and training, Renee also offers individual and personalized Homeschool Coaching.

Comments

  1. Rachel says:

    What a great article Renee! Being able to cook and eat at home is actually one of my main incentives to consider homeschooling my kid, because with food intolerances there are too many foods that could make her sick in a public school setting. And teaching her how to cook for herself (and enjoy it!) is one of my primary goals for her.

    She’s only three but she can do a lot more than I would have thought. She can even crack an egg.
    .-= Rachel’s last blog: How to Save the Day by Starting Over =-.

    • Renee says:

      Thanks Rachel! Homeschooling does help a lot with avoiding food issues, intolerances, preferences or otherwise.

      We don’t want our children eating most of the junk that is considered “food” by many people, I’m thinking lunch room cafeteria type & packaged stuff. By not sending our kids to school we can avoid the whole issue of eating differently and having our children tempted by what they see other children eating. Let’s face it, it’s hard to eat carrots, salad and beans when everyone around you is eating what looks to be more appetizing and interesting (all those packages always look so attractive). This is one of the perks of homeschooling in my mind. We can totally control what our children are eating during their most formative and tender years.

      That makes me sound like a control freak, I don’t think I am. But I do want to lay a solid healthy foundation for our kids when they are young to give them a good chance at living healthy after they are grown.

  2. se7en says:

    I am all for cooking with our kids and they all get a turn to help with the cooking one-on-one. I was quite surprised these past holidays when some of my kids started producing whole meals from scratch while I was still out in the garden with the others!!! Yay – they will always have a job in catering!!!
    Here is a post we did on our Meal Plan Project that you might like: http://www.se7en.org.za/2009/04/08/meal-mapping-with-kids
    .-= se7en’s last blog: This Week At (5 April) At Se7en… =-.

  3. Rana says:

    Great post Renee! I agree my mom and Grandma had me in the kitchen at a very early age and I have continued the tradition of letting the twins help me cook. They have learned to cook a few things on their own and they are pretty handy with a knife when it comes to chopping. I also agree that this is one lesson that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. I told my son you may decide you don’t want to get married you need to learn to take care of yourself and feed yourself good food. Or your wife might not like to cook. The hardest part right now is getting my son to try a variety of foods. It’s a slow process because he is a picky eater.
    .-= Rana’s last blog: Post it Note Tuesday =-.

    • Renee says:

      Maybe the more he’s involved in the kitchen the more he’ll want to try the new foods? I know other writers at Simple Mom and Simple Kids and Simple Bites have addressed this topic of picky eaters and this idea often comes up.

      I agree though, learning to cook is simply a life skill you gotta’ know. My thoughts are that you can choose to buy pre-made foods, hire a maid or marry well when the time comes but while you’re at home you’ll learn to cook (smile).

  4. misty says:

    i just wanted to say how much i enjoy simple homeschool posts. i’m in the thinking-of-homeschooling (which is to say my heart is set to do it, barring anything unforseen) but i have 3 boys 3 and under, so we’re nowhere near a formal or even “set” schedule. we’re really still in play mode. that being said, i just love seeing all the different perspetives of what types of curriculum to use to things like this, when on my hard days i say how on earth am i gonna homeschool these boys when they’r eall on top of each other and me?! so thank you for encouraging and giving helpful advice!!

    • Renee says:

      And I just want to say how much it satisfies me to hear that you are encouraged by what you read here (smile). That’s our goal! Thank you for sharing that, it encourages us in our writing and sharing of our lives.

      I too had 3, 3 and under for a time. It’s a busy time and play is where it’s at during those years.

  5. Stefani says:

    Great post, Renee! Thanks for the link!

    Our kitchen always feels like the hub of our homeschooling. We spend a lot of time in there! In the long list of things my guys think that they might be when they grow up, “chef” is always wedged in there somewhere. “I think that I’ll be an astronaut/graphic designer/chef/artist/farmer” I think so much of that is because they have been intrinsically involved in the kitchen since birth. Each of them has had their turn on mama’s hip as she stirred the pot, and then standing in the chair next to me to help. My oldest (nine) is now quite at home with meal planning and prep.

    One thing that has helped in our menu planning and in getting my fellas to try new things – - They can pick anything new that they want to try in the produce section (or veggie/fruit/salad parts of magazines and recipe books) . So often they plan for the sides and for vegetarian meals. The other sections of the store are subject to mama’s veto, but not veggies or fruits. They get excited about the power and autonomy in those sections and so we’ve tried some very interesting, and yet healthy, things! Now when we get a new magazine they scan the recipes to find all the fruit and veggie ones first!

    We make one elaborate dessert each week, on Sundays, and we rotate who gets to choose and help make it. They do so love digging into the recipe books to find just the right one, shopping for and preparing it, and then holding the “big unveil” at our Sunday dinner. This has really helped curtail the begging for treats during the week, and I think it goes a long way in teaching them balance. We have one special dessert… sometimes it lasts a few days, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes if it is particularly large, we take a sizable portion of it to a neighbor. Then we wait for the next Sunday.

    • Stacey says:

      Two great ideas of letting your kids pick any produce they want and picking a dessert to make once a week. I’m going to try these! Thanks for sharing.

    • Renee says:

      Stefani,
      Thank you for sharing these ideas. I have always enjoyed reading your food related posts at Blue Yonder Ranch. We recently tried a new fruit at the kid’s request (I too let them pick new produce to try) that was like an oversized grapefruit. We all decided grapefruit itself was better.
      I think it’s great how much you teach your boys about cooking. And a special dessert once a week is such a great idea.

  6. Rachel says:

    It’s so true that time with our children in the kitchen is 100% time schooling. I really value teaching my kids how to eat healthy and enjoy it! In fact, frustration with poor nutrition at school is one of the reasons I chose to homeschool. Thanks for the encouragement!

  7. elana says:

    great post. loved reading it.
    would you mind sharing some recipe sources for you easy one pot meals?
    to be honest: i really do not enjoy cooking.
    my husband is the chef of our home but 6 months out of the year he is busy with our seasonal business therefor it becomes more of my responsibility then. some days we end up eating cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and oatmeal for dinner, just because i do not want to spend all the time it takes to cook food.

    • Renee says:

      Elana, My favorite recipe source is http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/
      We eat a plant based diet, ie: we base our diet around plant sources not animal products, though we don’t totally abstain from animal products. This is quite different from what most people eat though so the recipes may or not suit your family’s palette.
      You can read more about our family’s food guidelines here:
      http://fimby.tougas.net/our-plant-based-diet

      Hope that helps.
      Can anyone else recommend one pot meal recipe sources? Cookbooks or web links welcome.

      • elana says:

        actually i have a feeling they will suit us very well :)
        we are learning now about raw food diet and have even done it for a whole week and really liked it. i don’t think we will ever be 100% raw so mostly vegan is probably our best way to go.
        thanks for the link. i will check it out.

        • Renee says:

          That’s cool to hear Elana! I have really enjoyed Susan’s recipe at fat free vegan blog. Other than that I mostly make things up (I’ve been cooking this way for years now so have experience with what works and what doesn’t – mostly, I still have some flops).
          My speciality is soups. I make all kinds of soups and that’s supper. We also eat potatoes a lot with maybe a bean sauce or mashed with cabbage and veggie gravy. (just a couple ideas)

  8. Aimee says:

    Wonderful post, Renee! Every parent should read this. I’m all about encouraging parents to help their child embrace food and get involved in the kitchen.
    I’m working on Number 4, myself. =)
    I’m only at the pre-school age, so it’s not too hectic yet…But I was home-schooled and I always remember cooking with my mum. I was in charge of some family meals by age 10; obviously it fostered a love of real food.
    .-= Aimee’s last blog: Spring Clean Your Body With Real Foods =-.

  9. Erica says:

    Wow, thanks for the great reminder! As a homeschooling mom, I often forget to let the kiddos help when preparing meals! I’ll have to get better about that!
    .-= Erica’s last blog: Download –N- Go: Expedition Australia =-.

  10. Alisha says:

    Oh yes, that’s something I’m guilty of. The old “No, get out of the kitchen, Mom’s trying to work.” My oldest really likes to unload the dishwasher for me, lol, and I love it when he does! But I’ve been hesitant on teaching him to cook since he and I are the klutz twins. I just know he’s going to burn himself or lob off a finger. I need to get over that. Everyone needs to know how to cook. I’m going to do better with that. I’m freaking out over the little things again. Gah.
    .-= Alisha’s last blog: Laughing At The Past AKA What Is Wrong With Men? =-.

  11. Great post! I agree heartily about children’s involvement in the kitchen. Our girls (ages 11 & 7) and our son (age 4) really enjoy helping out in the kitchen, & though it slows me down…you’re right, it’s a part of their education for life. My 11-yr old helps me with my ‘big’ cooking days, where I cook & freeze lots of foods for future use. Some of our best conversations and memories have been made in the kitchen.

  12. Belinda Jong says:

    Hi Renee,

    Thank you for your sharing, it is a good article.

    My girl of 9 years old loves cooking and we have done a lot of cooking over Easter holiday.

  13. Cooking with your kids can be a real joy. I remember cooking with my mom when I was little. Good memories. :)

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  15. John Batt says:

    Out of interest – when it comes to being enthusiastic about being in the kitchen, how much of this comes from personality and a natural interest in food and how much from upbringing do you think?

    Like – great chefs – learnt from experiencing great food as children or just a love for food?

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