Making a Convivial Home: Dinner Helper

posted in: attitudinal | 4

Sometimes “purposeful” and “intentional” can turn into “taking oneself too seriously.” Anything that doesn’t go as planned (and isn’t that usually most things?) is a temptation to discouragement or at least to the laser-eye of analysis. Instead, it might just be a reminder that God is in charge and we are not, and we need to be willing to laugh at ourselves. Here is one way I have tried to introduce quality, relationship-building time into our days.

Dinner Helper

My friend Kirsti started this about a year before I worked up the courage to begin it myself. Finally, once I mustered my inner resources, I gave each child one weekday to be “Dinner Helper,” giving up my time for listening to lectures, sermons, or audio books.

Whether it be because there’s not much prep, because I forget to call my helper, or because the kids are outside playing, it only happens about 50% of the time. Some children are more insistant than others about making sure they get their turn.

I have a few ground rules:

  1. The dinner helper is the only child allowed in the kitchen.
  2. The dinner helper is the one who sets the table that day.
  3. The dinner helper does whatever task I ask of him.

The dinner helper is not the dinner maker, but the apprentice. As such, their primary role is to watch and learn and pitch in as they are able. “Watching is helping” has been one of my dinner-time sayings since Hans was a toddler. And it is actually true. Observation is the key to learning. By watching, they will learn and someday cook for themselves.

So, while we cook dinner together, I talk about what I’m doing and why. I make conversation about food and cooking. I answer questions. I ask the child-helper about what they’ve been thinking about lately, listening to their word-stream while chopping onions.

Jobs kids can do:

  • Gather and throw away vegetable and other garbage as I chop.
  • Dump ingredients into the mixing bowl or pot.
  • Help with stirring and mixing.
  • Fetch items from the pantry or fridge.
  • Return items to the pantry or fridge.
  • Put toppings on pizzas.

For the bigger kids (8 & 6 at our house), I try to make sure they get some job that respects their ability and challenges them.

  • Peel carrots.
  • Scrub potatoes.
  • Stir the pot on the stove.
  • Measure ingredients.

Admittedly, it is not a glamorous gig. It is kitchen-minion, not junior-chef. But this is how apprenticeships work. You start with the menial work, watching and learning from the master. Gradually, as you understand what is involved and needs doing, you earn more and more responsibility.

My goal is to have each of the children able to make several dinners from scratch by themselves (including remembering all the menial clean-as-you-go tasks!) by age 10 or 11. Eventually, perhaps by 12, they will each get their own night to simply make dinner, period. That will be a marvelous pay-off. But even already, being able to be with me without any of the other children in the kitchen, accepting jobs and helping out, is clearly something that fills their love-tanks. It gives them something to brag about with their friends, too.

Before I implemented the system, very few days went by where there wasn’t some comment slipped in at some point: “Nora has a day every week where she gets to help make dinner.” Now other friends’ children are saying the same in their houses, but with “Hans” substituted. That means that for once I get to be the fun mom instead of the mean mom, and that is something.

4 Responses

  1. Brandy @ Afterthoughts
    |

    I just started doing this again recently! (You know what they say about great minds…) But I find it is a good way to have individual contact with each child–that rule about only the helper in the kitchen is key. E-Age-Nine is also now REALLY helpful. I would definitely call him Junior Chef at this point. He can brown ground beef, for instance, and measure ingredients by himself. He can basically follow a recipe, and I probably don’t let him as much as I should because he makes me a wee bit nervous.

    What I love more than anything, though, is how proud my littlest ones are about the whole thing. They always tell Daddy, “*I* made this!” And they are just beaming.

  2. dawn
    |

    I do this too … since I have 3 kids, they each get two days a week and Sunday is my day of “rest” :) The kitchen helper at our house is not (currently) the kitchen cleanup person. I also have a kitchen cleanup person and a laundry helper. I’m thinking, though, of making the kitchen day be everything from start to finish and making a Pet-care person, instead, where they’re responsible for ins and outs and feeding/watering the dogs.

  3. Meredith_in_Aus
    |

    Good reminders. Glad it has been working for you. It IS nice to be the nice mum. :o)

    In Him

    Meredith

  4. Sarah
    |

    I love how you have explained that the children are apprentices, not junior chefs. I have three kids that can be completely overwhelming in the kitchen at meal prep time. I am going to implement this dinner helper (one at a time) idea. Thanks!