Why You Should Teach Your Kid To Cook

I recently wrote a piece for Your Teen Magazine making the case for why every teen should know how to cook. If you have been following me for any length of time you will probably know that I enjoy cooking immensely, and I feel very comfortable in the kitchen.

This wasn’t always the case. As I write in the article, I grew up not knowing how to cook, and I went away to college having not even the most basic of skills. I think knowing how to perform the most common “adult” tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry are essential for every teenager. I went to college not knowing how to do any of those things, which looking back seems unbelievable.

I believe that one of the main goals in raising a child is to help them become productive adults who can get along well in the world. This means having good social skills, being able to have a conversation with an adult, and knowing how to shake hands. In my opinion it also means knowing things like how to make an entire meal from scratch, how to chop and dice using the appropriate chef’s knives, and how to make cooking calculations in your head (ie: four tablespoons = 1/4 cup).

Teaching your kids how to cook can be messy and frustrating. My daughter has been in the kitchen with me since she was a baby. There has been a lot of spilling and mistakes over the years, and moments when I would just rather do it myself.  But just this past weekend she made a healthy banana blueberry bread from scratch that turned out beautifully. It made me realize it was all worthwhile.

These “soft skills” are just as essential in building a capable adult as all the other skills we want our kids to have. It gives them confidence, allowing them to begin their young adult lives with a head start.

I’m curious: what was your experience growing up. Did you leave for college or other post-high school adventure knowing essential “adult” skills? If so, how did it help you in other aspects of your life? Is there anything you wished you had done differently with your own kids? Comment below!

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Make Each Day Of The Week Unique (plus a new carnitas recipe!)

I wrote a post in July about my new dinner plan, which is to “make each day of the week unique”. You can read about it here. I’m excited to be implementing it now that the school year has started and things have gotten pretty busy with sports practices\matches, theater set design, and orchestra rehearsals for my daughter, and meetings for me and my husband. More than ever, I need focus when it comes to meal planning. The premise is to assign each day of the week a theme (Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc) so that it’s easier to plan the week’s recipes.

When I was poring over recipes yesterday morning trying to figure out what to make this week, it was so much easier to decide using my new system. I’m telling you, I am really on to something here!

Here is this week’s dinner plan. Thursdays are kind of a catch-all day. We usually have a good amount of leftovers in the fridge, and sometimes we will just fend for ourselves. On Friday, without exception, we go out or order in. The kitchen is always closed. This tradition has been going on since my 13 year old was a baby and I look forward to it every week. On Sundays we get together with our close friends and neighbors for our Crappy Dinner Party which I cannot recommend highly enough. Dinner Plan

Next week for “Taco Tuesday” I have promised my family I would make these Pork Carnitas. I made them for a friend on Saturday in my Instant Pot and they were so good (and very easy)!

Here’s to a great fall ahead!

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Easy Dinner Plan

cookbook

Most every Sunday I sit down with a mixture of cookbooks, magazines, recipe files and swirling thoughts to try to map out the next week’s dinner menus. I collect cookbooks and recipes the way some people collect baseball cards or coins. I love recipes, I can’t get enough of them, but there are SO. MANY. And when it comes time to figure out weeknight meals I do feel sometimes as though I need a little guidance.

I read a tip somewhere recently to make each day of the week a unique *type* of cuisine to help guide things along. Taco Tuesday is a popular night, but can you really eat tacos every week without someone in your family complaining that they are getting sick of them by month six (I mean, in my family the answer is no, but I realize we don’t represent all families)? So instead of tacos, you could designate Tuesdays for Mexican food night. Rather than it just serving tacos, you could also incorporate an easy pozole , burritos, chilaquiles, make your own Chipotle bowls, etc.

This tip was kind of a big deal for me, and I laid out a plan for our week that I think will work nicely. Every so often, maybe quarterly, I can mix things up a bit so that I have a chance to use all my recipes that I love so much.  This plan will work well during the school year, when we are on a little bit more of a regular schedule.

Here’s my weekly plan:

Monday: Meatless Monday (usually a pasta or another grain)

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday (or any Mexican inspired dish like chilaquiles, burritos, or this Easy Posole)

Wednesday: Fish (salmon, poke bowls, shrimp kebabs, etc)

Thursday: Leftovers

Friday: KITCHEN IS CLOSED, OUT TO EAT

Saturday: John grills or smokes meat

Sunday: Comforting soup or a roast, or any other more complicated, time consuming dish that sounds good

I am really excited about this new approach to planning meals, and I think it’s going to work well for us.

Do you use a system like this? How does it work for you? What are you ideas for days of the week? Please leave a comment below!

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Midweek Mashup: Taco seasoning recipe, a cell phone contract for teens, and 13 easy yoga poses for stress.

MIDWEEK MASHUP

School is back in session and that means we could all use some tips on how to make things easier and more streamlined. Even if you don’t have kids in school, these tips are sure to be useful!

Why buy taco seasoning at the store which contains fillers and other weird ingredients when it’s cheaper and almost just as easy to make your own? Yesterday was Taco Tuesday at our house and I whipped together this easy recipe, with some left over for next time. Make a huge batch and seal it up and use it for several months! TACO SEASONING.

Does your twee/teen have a cell phone? Are you struggling with setting limits and enforcing them? If so, here’s one option: a cell phone contract. I like this particular one, and plan on having my almost 13 year old read and sign it today. Many parents (myself included) might even benefit from some of the points in the contract, such as etiquette and mandated times to turn off the phone.

If back to school or the changing season is causing some stress, here are 13 simple yoga poses everyone in the family can try. I’m going to break these out when my tween gets overwhelmed by homework and responsibilities.

Have a great week!

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New Year’s in September?

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School starts tomorrow! The beginning of a new school year always feels a little like January 1st to me. It’s a time for me to set new goals, decide how I want the year to go, change old habits that don’t serve me, and think of new ways to approach the daily grind. It’s very exciting.

I started to get really excited about this just yesterday, when I was cooking a whole chicken in the crock pot for chicken noodle soup while simultaneously making my family’s favorite Pasta Caprese for dinner. This summer was a perfect storm of a very busy activities calendar for my 12 year old, a giant volunteer project for me that required hundreds of hours of work, and some weird virus I fought from May through August that left me feeling totally depleted. Cooking for me is a joy when I feel like doing it. Otherwise it just feels like another obligation. So, cooking (truly cooking, not just assembling quesadillas and sandwiches) was one of the first things I ditched when I felt overwhelmed. I have to be honest, it was fantastic for a while. But, now I am feeling better and so I got the itch to cook again yesterday, and it felt good to be back.

As I do every year at this time, I’ve been considering what is important to me this year, and what I can ditch. Cooking is definitely at the top of my “important” list. Getting back to the gym is up there as well. I put my nutrition school on hold because I found I couldn’t balance my volunteer gig and my lethargy with studying. I can’t wait to get back to that. And I have decided this year I am committed to doing small projects around the house that will keep it in better order. Closet clean outs, painting touch ups, and decluttering on the regular are all on the list. Bonus: getting to listen to my favorite podcasts while doing projects will hopefully motivate me! (Pod Save America, Song Exploder, West Wing Weekly, S-Town, and Radio Lab are all on my fave list).

What to ditch? Procrastinating. Saying “yes” to requests when I really want to say “no” (hello PTA). Guilt trips.

Have I missed anything? What’s on your list this fall? Please leave a comment below so I can steal your ideas!

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Crappy Dinner Party (It’s A Good Thing!)

 

 

 

Crappy Dinner Party (It’s A Good Thing!)

I am #blessed to have the most fabulous neighbors. When we moved in almost seven years ago, my immediate next door and kitty-corner neighbors welcomed us with enthusiasm. Since then our families have played together, eaten together, traveled together and spent Christmas Eve together.

However, we are a busy bunch, and it can be difficult to find time when we can all come together. Between high stress jobs, kids’ activities, and family commitments, weeks and sometimes a month or two can go by before we can see one another. For a couple of years we’ve been talking about the concept of the Crappy Dinner Party, wherein everyone pitches in whatever they have in their fridge (no shopping allowed!) and the host family does no cleaning, no fussing and no elaborate anything. The point is to allow us to spend time with one another without stress. I’m happy to say that this Sunday my family hosted the Inaugural Crappy Dinner Party. I made some vegetarian tostadas from a meal kit service that I was planning on making anyway. Catherine brought turkey taco fixings that she was making for her family that night regardless and some drinks for the kids. Tom brought gin (because, COCKTAILS) and grapes and veggies. I threw some buttered noodles in there for the kids. We cut up a watermelon. I didn’t even wipe up the crumbs from the dinner table from the previous night BECAUSE CRAPPY DINNER PARTY RULES ARE NOT TO BE BROKEN. We used paper plates (that we composted, please don’t yell!) and it was probably the most relaxed dinner party I’ve ever had in my life. And this was with 6 kids and 5 adults!

Some integral people in my friend zone were missing, as I threw the dinner idea together somewhat last minute. Deanna had to work (so she sent her husband and kids), Shawn and family had plans, and Erika (a new friend to me but a dear friend to my friends so obviously she’s on the list!) couldn’t come, but here’s the thing: now that we’ve started this it’s going to happen more frequently. Once you release the pressure of cleaning and putting together an elaborate spread, it becomes a joy and not a burden. Catherine has already planned the next one at her house.

How do you host your own Crappy Dinner Party? Let me summarize the rules for you:

  1. DON’T CLEAN YOUR HOUSE. Move some piles if they get in the way of eating but otherwise hands off.
  2. NO GROCERY SHOPPING. Make what you have, even if it’s beans and rice.
  3. EVERYONE BRINGS SOMETHING THEY CAN CONTRIBUTE. Even especially if it’s gin.
  4. ENJOY YOURSELVES.
  5. REPEAT again and again because it’s fun and you realize your friends just want to see each other, even if the house is messy.

Do you have your own Crappy Dinner Party rules? Let me hear them!

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Maybe Some Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oats For Your Monday

My husband and I have a golf tournament in the morning and it starts pretty early. I am making this Apple Cinnamon Slow Cooker Oatmeal recipe tonight so that we can have something healthy and hearty in the morning ready to go.  I love crock pot oatmeal because it makes the house smell amazing and there’s something really pampering about having a hot breakfast waiting for you when you wake up. Just drizzle a little honey or maple syrup and heavy cream over the top and you’ll be happy as can be!

Recipe here.

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