Family Time (With a Chance of Meatballs) | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Family Time (With a Chance of Meatballs)

Family Time (With a Chance of Meatballs)

Everyone can be involved in cooking dinner

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I grew up in a family with a working mom and dad plus two siblings, so life was often chaotic and always busy. There were times when the house was a mess and the laundry didn’t get folded as soon as it came out of the dryer. But there was always a nice dinner on the table. My mother saw to that.

The fact that my mother actually liked to cook helped make meal prep less of a chore, but it was her managerial skills and her willingness to overlook less than perfection that got us all through. She assigned tasks to each of us, each according to our age and capabilities.

It did more than save her time. It built our confidence. Today, as grownups, we are each comfortable at the stove.

For me, the youngest, the help-task started as a simple “turn the oven on and put the chicken in at 4:00 p.m.” I graduated to greasing cookie sheets, and eventually learned things like how to season meat, chop an onion, measure flour into a cup.

We all learned to take reasonable risks, like trying a new recipe. We also learned that most of our mistakes were not such a big deal and that if we were in it together and we couldn’t blame Mom if we didn’t like something. We hated that cauliflower with peanut sauce, but loved the scrambled eggs with brown spots from the butter one of us overheated (in fact to this day it’s the way we all eat fried eggs).

When it was my turn as a parent I figured out that in addition to the benefits my children and I got from participating in the cooking, if you don’t call it a chore or act as if it were a chore, they don’t see it as a chore. Prepping dinner is more like an “art project.” Everyone wants in and with the exception of infants, even very young children are capable of helping.

Suppose you and the children want to have pasta and meatballs for dinner? All of you can figure out what to shop for. One of the kids can write the shopping list. A toddler can tear basil leaves into smaller pieces. If you slice an onion, a 6-8 year old can, with supervision, cut the slices into dice-size chunks. Children older than 10 or so can sauté the onion and add canned tomatoes to the pot for sauce. Teenagers can do the pasta boil-up. A 4-year-old can crack an egg into a bowl and add it to the ground meat. A toddler can add measured breadcrumbs into the bowl. Most kids, every age, can (and might enjoy) use their hands to shape the chopped meat mixture into meatballs.

Give your children a chance to participate and they will learn lots, and most of the time they will like what they prepare, just because they prepared it. Try this easy recipe one of these days and have an “art project” make-a-meal with your family. Enjoy the time together. Enjoy the meal.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

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