From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

A Simple Recipe

As I pulled the pan out of the oven, my son glanced at the meat. “Chicken again?” he asked.

“I thought you liked this recipe.” The chicken dish was easy to make. It assembled in five minutes and cooked for an hour.

“Don’t we eat this once a week?”

I sighed. Working night shift, I slept days. I understood that my children did not realize I ate dinner with them when what I would have preferred was breakfast—an omelet, pancakes, or a quick bowl of oatmeal. The simplest thing for me to do after I woke up was to put something in the oven, shower, and dress for work before eating dinner as a family. As I chewed my chicken, I knew I needed a way to resolve the issue. During work that night, I devised a plan.

The next day I introduced my proposal. After I passed the meat loaf and side dishes, I reached for my secret weapon. I placed my old cookbook on the table, shifted in my seat, and announced, “I made a decision.” Looking at my son and daughter, I said, “You will each pick a recipe before I go grocery shopping. Once a week, you will prepare dinner after school. You are both in high school, old enough to cook.”

“Anything we want?” My daughter was not a fan of meatloaf.

I nodded. “Whatever you want; just remember you make it for dinner.” I was not sure they understood that work was involved.

With interest, my daughter started to page through the book. “What about this chicken tetrazzini?”

I glanced at the ingredients. It was something I never would have made for my children because of the sherry and whipping cream in the recipe. Afraid they would smell something different, I tended to cook as I had for years, without creams or a variety of spices. “It sounds good.” I took the book and handed it across the table to my son. While eating his dinner, he paged through the recipes. I relished the lack of complaints. But I wondered if their initial interest actually would transition into cooking the food.

As weeks progressed, both of them picked only new recipes. We started to eat differently. They served me dishes I would not have attempted to serve them. It made me regret not having initiated a cooking chore sooner. I always asked for other help around the house, mainly in the cleaning department.

Months later, my children were still cooking. Perhaps not every week, as I initially expected, but their behavior toward food changed. Over time they learned differences in recipes, how extensive ingredient lists could result in time investments. As they shopped at the grocery store, they began to understand the cost of food as well.

Then my son began to bake the chocolate chip cookies he enjoyed eating. Soon he claimed he could make them better than I could. Why would I even try to compete? He was taking care of one of his needs.

Although we still ate dinner instead of breakfast before I left for work, the partial transfer of responsibility for cooking to my children was a fulfilling decision. It gave them a sense of control over their lives. It was one of the best parenting plans I ever devised. It was a simple recipe with all the right ingredients.

Linda Hanson

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