Would Your Children Enjoy Cooking More?

When did you start learning to cook? Did boys and girls both have the opportunity to try their hand in your family?

How does she get her homework done, cook, and manage a hectic schedule during her cross-country and musical seasons?

Recently I’ve been blown away by interviewing and watching a 12-year-old kitchen foodie, Lizzy.

In celebration of Family Day in the United States (the last Monday in September), I’m again writing about the value and importance of families eating together. In Canada, a similar emphasis comes the third Monday of February (or the second Monday in British Columbia).



I had been hearing Lizzy’s mother, Virginia, say repeatedly “Oh Lizzy made that” at our church potlucks. “She does most of the cooking.” I had to know more. Virginia said Lizzy would be happy to let me watch her cook one evening.

Lizzy runs cross-country at her middle school and participates in spring musicals, but otherwise after school on most weekdays you’ll find her stirring, dredging, frying, baking, and pulsing in the kitchen of her family’s suburban split-level. This she loves, and so does her family: her parents and 15-year-old brother, Sam. Most everything Lizzy makes is from scratch—even the dressing for the salad.

Children today only make cookies and the occasional muffins, boxed cake, or scrambled eggs, maybe. Right? The evening I arrive to observe Lizzy and ask a boatload of questions, Lizzy is making fried chicken, homemade waffles, and salad, plus dressing—with finesse and a flourish.

Maybe I’m behind the times. When I was growing up, and with my own girls, I felt like ample opportunities were given and encouraged to try a hand in the kitchen, but by no means did I—or they—take over most of the cooking. Back in the day—say the 1930s and ’40s, children were more frequently called on to take over the cooking at an early age, perhaps even on a wood cookstove. One Appalachian sociologist, Peggy Shifflett, has written a book, Mom’s Family Pie, where she talks about 8- to 10-year-old girls in her family taking on cooking responsibilities, especially by the time they were teens.

But who does this in 2015? I found several examples online, but I would not say it is common.

Lizzy says she started learning to cook when she was seven, in particular making typical cookies and muffins, at the side of her grandmother (who lives about 50 miles away). About the same time, her mother participated with others in a Sunday school class I taught at our church related to the 2010 publication of my book Whatever Happened to Dinner? Recipes and Reflections for Family Mealtime.

In the class, one of the things we talked about was how picky eaters can spoil the enjoyment of a family meal. Virginia mentioned she had found that her kids were enjoying a new step she’d taken to plan menus with the help of the children; they ate much better when they could have a say in what was being served. I thought that was a wonderful idea.

Lizzy has now gone way beyond her early cooking and owns a 5-quart Dutch oven, a cast iron skillet, a pasta maker, a food processor, and more, because she asks for these things for birthday and Christmas. Or friends just give them to her.

How does she get her homework done, cook, and manage a hectic schedule during her cross-country and musical seasons? “Others do gymnastics,” Lizzy says by way of example. “This is what I do.” When her friends ask her how she has time for cooking dinner, she says she tells them, “While you’re off doing that, I do this.”

If she has a really busy night, she plans around it, her mother adds, like any adult would. If the family needs to be somewhere early, such as a football game, she makes chili or a beef stew in the morning or the evening before to take to the game.

But the planning ahead, cooking, and making sure they have a complete meal is mostly Lizzy’s arena. “It’s a gift she gives our family,” her mother says gratefully.

For a three-part blog post with recipes from Lizzy and her grandmother, photos, and much more, go to http://tinyurl.com/CookingWithLizzy.


For the free study guide to Whatever Happened to Dinner? Recipes and Reflections for Family Mealtime, go to http://www.heraldpress.com/Studygds/whateverhappenedtodinner, or write to me and I’ll send you a printed copy of the study guide. Send to: Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802.