If you aren’t having your tweens and teens cook dinner for the family regularly, you are doing them—and yourselves—a disservice. It really does make life easier.

In our house, this started out of desperation. I was in the car from school pick-up through dinner time ever day of the week with one girl or the other. And if I had to hear one more complaint about the lack of home cooked meals, I was going to lose my last marble.

Of course, you want a from-scratch, hot meal on the table every night over which to leisurely dine and bond as a family. But you also have busy kids who can’t drive and need to go to voice lessons, swim practice, and so-and-so’s house to work on this week’s group project (oh, don’t EVEN get me started on group projects). How are you supposed to pull all of this off?

I’ll tell you how. Each of your kids has at least one activity free evening home, right? And they are now old enough to stay home alone while you haul around their sibling(s), yes? (We started the stay-home-alone thing at age 12, but every house is different).

How We Pull It Off

  • Each kid over the age of 11 is assigned one weeknight. Take a quick look at the schedule, and it’ll become clear which night is right for each.

  • Each must then choose their week’s entrée and veggie plan or recipe.
  • The night before you usually do your major food haul for the week, each must provide you with a grocery list cross referenced against the contents of the frig and pantry (to avoid ending up with sixteen bottles of soy sauce).
  • On their night, while you are taking your nightly tour of your fair city, that busy bee can be home prepping and cooking.
  • You arrive home to a meal and a very proud child.

Now, this may take some supervision at first. You may need to do a couple of simple lessons and teach them how to find meals that are consistent with their skill level and your safety comfort level, but believe me. It is doable. And it will change. Your. LIFE.

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How Letting Your Kids Make Dinner Benefits Them…

  • Shows them how much time and planning it really takes to pull off a meal

  • Gives them a significant feeling of accomplishment and pride

  • Forces them to learn how to feed themselves from planning to list making to prep to cooking

  • Gives them an opportunity to eat what they like

  • Gives them an opportunity to express creativity

  • Teaches them how to take a compliment; what they make will be good, and everyone will tell them so

  • Gives them a tangible way to do something for you

…And How It Benefits You

  • Gives you a break!
  • Gives your kids some appreciation for how hard you work

  • Allows you to teach your kids something valuable that will serve them the rest of their lives

  • Makes you burst with pride at how awesome your kids are

I know. If you are anything like me, you have a million reasons why this is impossible. Let me address them.

“They’ll make a huge mess and create more work for me.” Well, maybe at first, but we require our kids to tidy as they go. Believe me, this will save you effort in the end.

“No one will eat what they cook.” Help them start simple. They’ll surprise you!

“They aren’t mature enough to use a sharp knife or stove top.” There are many meals they can prepare without a sharp knife or pot full of boiling water. But also, they need to learn how to do these things safely. Put in a little teaching, and soon you’ll trust them to be safe. We are all still 10-fingered over here!

“It’ll just be one more thing I have to nag them to do.” Well, I was afraid of this. I can only fight so many battles. But my kids took the ball and ran with it. This is the only chore that is associated with no nagging in our house, I’m sorry to report.

You know those meal kits that are so popular right now? Blue Apron, Sun Basket, Hello Fresh, etc. Well, there is one made for kid cooks!

There are a couple that deliver “kid-friendly” kits. You could do the first couple with your kids, let them do a couple by themselves, and then, voila! They’d have a gradual introduction and end up with some recipes they know how to make. You could then have them replay those recipes without the kits. I even think the kits not made for kids would work well.

Our girls have made chicken pot pie, grilled cheese with tomato soup, pasta with salad, chicken broccoli casserole, broccoli cheese soup and bread, zucchini noodles, chicken noodle soup, ravioli casserole, grilled burritos, mini calzones and so much more!

Some parenting experts say that we shouldn’t do for kids what they can do for themselves. This household doesn’t strictly run like that, but in the case of family meals, I strongly feel that every capable member should contribute.

Now, go break the news to your budding chefs!

Featured Photo Courtesy: Stock via Shutterstock