Reclaiming that Kitchen Magic

I have always loved to cook. My mom started teaching me how to cook as soon as I could stand on a chair by the counter and she let me make messes in the kitchen and help her for years. I’ve benefited greatly from her sacrifice (and now that I have children I realize that it is a sacrifice. Kitchen work is much less stressful/less messy/ less work when you don’t let small children help you).
But my love for the kitchen has waned over the past few years. It’s been a combination of growing busy caring for babies and the sheer amount of eating that happens in our house. It’s one thing to enjoy cooking a meal every now and then. It’s one thing to enjoy leisurely cooking dinner with your spouse when you’re newlyweds (Justin and I used to do that a lot).
It’s another thing to need to get three meals a day on the table and get the kitchen cleaned up after every one of them and provide seemingly unlimited snacks to children who eat more than their weight in food every day. The requirements of special diets and allergy needs and baby food can complicate even the simplest meal planning schedule.

cooking quote
Cooking can quickly move from a task that’s enjoyable to a chore you’d rather skip.
But I’ve not been able to persuade my family to just eat a banana and go to bed. Since we do have to eat why not make it a little less…weighty? I’m going to work on reclaiming my love for cooking and feeding my family. These are basic things that I’m going to retry- but often when we are struggling we need basics, not something fancy. Maybe you want to try them too?
1. Revive consistent meal planning. I’ve somehow fell by the wayside with this. I’ve been trying to skip some trips to the store but it’s costing us more money and stressing me out so I’m going to pick two days a month to go to Aldi. And I’m going to have a plan for the food I buy. If I don’t know what I’m supposed to be cooking suddenly we are finishing kindergarten at four and I’m convinced there is absolutely nothing in the house to eat.
2. Pick out one new/fun recipe a week. I enjoy doing a little more work with cooking. But sometimes with small kids and school and trying to fold that load of laundry on the couch it turns into just more work and I make one-pot spaghetti instead (it helps that it’s the three-year-old’s favorite meal too). I’m going to pick one “fun” meal a week and cook it for date night on Fridays. This means that Justin and I can cook it together and I don’t have to worry about whether it’s low-protein or dairy free or if little children will have to be admonished that it’s rude to say food is “yucky.” Don’t worry- we’ll actually eat this after we put the children in bed too. Then we can eat all the one-pot spaghetti and taco salad we want the rest of the time.
3. Make cooking a fun experience. I do work at this one. Now that the weather is warmer the two oldest boys go out on the back porch to play basketball and ride bikes while I cook (all the praise hands for our screened-in back porch!).  The baby plays with blocks, watches the trains go by, and tries to climb up my leg while I’m cooking. But honestly I don’t usually mind that; he’s easily distracted with some animal crackers. My favorite way to enjoy cooking dinner is to turn on a podcast, fix my coffee, and text with the husband for a few minutes. (And in the interest of being “real” I’m usually also trying to fold a load of laundry and/or finish cleaning something but that can’t make life bad or life will just be…bad.)
4. Plan ahead what the boys can do. The boys love to chop mushrooms and peel carrots and mix anything in a mixing bowl. My first reaction when they ask to help is to stifle a sigh so I want to plan ahead what they can do. I want to bring them along with me. That’s one of the reasons we are homeschooling: so that we can do life with our kids. So let’s do life. Cooking is a life skill and I want them all to learn so no better time than the present, right? I can pick out one or two things that they can do to help and invite them in instead of just trying not to run them out.
We have to eat. It’s no small thing to keep people fed and the kitchen reasonably clean but someone has to do it. I want to enjoy my work here in our home. I set the tone with my attitude and if I can help myself out, I’m going to do that.
How do you make cooking something you enjoy? Got any secrets for incorporating your kids into your kitchen?