Of Steamed Tuna and Hopes for a Better Future: A Plan for Meal Time Madness

On one of our first dates, my partner made me a meal of steamed tuna and mixed frozen vegetables on a bed of egg noodles. His mama taught him well, it was a balanced meal—protein, vegetables, carbs—and took full advantage of the one pot and steamer that he had. Even my fairly unrefined palate had a difficult time downing that meal. It is probably memories of that meal that have made me incredibly concerned about getting my kids involved in the kitchen and learning real cooking skills.

To me, it’s more than just cooking. It’s about everyone in the family being more conscious of the food choices that we make. Making dinner can be a chore if you don’t enjoy it. Many of us come home from work exhausted, and just rush through the motions simply to get something on the table.

But, what if we made dinner prep a way to spend quality time together? Take the stress out of it by getting some help from the kiddos, make it enjoyable by spending the time hearing about each other’s days, and give kids focus on something during a hectic and tiring part of the day (when both of mine are most likely to flip tables and empty toy boxes). When all of the obstacles are removed, we can slow dinner prep down and actually focus on making food that we’re happy serving to our families—and save those boxes of mac and cheese for the nights when we just can’t possibly do anything else.

In my house, as soon as you can sit in a high chair, you are expected to help out in the kitchen. Alright, you might not be expected to help out so much as you are expected to enjoy being your wannabe television chef of a mother’s personal audience of one. From your high chair you are given pots and pans, talked through recipes and given pieces of food to try as a meal is made. Once you’re able to pull up a chair and stand at the counter, you’re given a butter knife and a few easy-to-cut veggies to work on beside me. If you’re a lucky toddler, you’re also allowed to push buttons on blenders, pull levers on mixers and stir batters (while learning rather unsuccessfully that we can’t eat the batters).

Possession is ten-tenths of the toddler’s law; something that I definitely exploit when it comes to food. There is nothing that my toddler loves more than something that he has made. Very few muffins or sandwiches that a proud Aidan has made go to waste. Meal times used to be awful. Food would be thrown, meals would go uneaten, and calls for late-night snacks would be heard from beds upstairs. This seemed to vanish once we started to give Aidan a say in what we were having (by giving him limited choices). By getting his buy-in early, dinner generally became a more successful and healthier event.

I’m hoping that this current success translates into our children cultivating a good understanding of proper cooking as they grow up. They don’t have to love doing it; they just need a better repertoire than their father’s steamed tuna combo.

Andrea is a writer and communicator focusing on health communications. Currently, she is taking a break from work to spend time with her toddler, Aidan, while waiting for the arrival of her next son (due in September).