By Jill Erber
My family’s morning routine used to be a series of orchestrated steps meant to get everyone out the door at a precise time. Now, it involves debates over whose Zoom call is more important.
At the end of the day, we dine together. This has always been a treasured time when we gather and share the details of our day. These days, I don’t need to hear the details because I was there. But old habits, especially beloved ones, die hard. Discovering new recipes, planning menus, acquiring ingredients, cooking and serving are still some of our favorite family activities.
Our daughters range in age from five to 13 years old. The youngest loves to squish anything with her hands and do tiny detail work. Our middle child is quite confident and capable in the kitchen, so she is trusted with everything from chopping to sautéing to baking dessert. The oldest usually gets setup and cleanup duty, as both allow her to perform TikTok dances while working. A few tricks help keep the process fun for everyone.
Trick #1: Don’t cook
We call it “Mediterranean Dinner.” It consists of everything we can think of that requires no heat and very little prep. This is how it usually goes:
Husband: “How about Mediterranean Dinner tonight?”
Me: “I’ll bring stuff home from work.”
Husband: “Don’t forget wine.”
I then scour the shelves at Cheesetique for any items that look interesting. You can do this at your favorite store, even virtually these days.
Must haves include fresh mozzarella; something cured, like salami or ham; preserved fish, like Spanish tuna in olive oil; a cheese or two; antipasti like olives, cornichons or marinated artichokes; and a fresh baguette. We always have greens and various veggies in the fridge, so we cobble together a salad, too.
• Job, 5-year-old: Slice mozzarella. Just call the slices “rustic” and everyone is happy.
• Job, 10-year-old: Heat and slice baguette. Even fresh ones benefit from warming to crusty perfection.
• Job, 13-year-old: TikTok while setting the table.
Trick #2: Call anything a taco
Wraps like naan and tortillas are easy to come by and easy to freeze. Cook anything hearty as a base – cauliflower, beef, chicken, fish – with a little seasoning.
The key for toppings is tiny bowls. If you’re rolling your eyes like, “Ugh, tiny bowls are useless,” you are wrong. Chop every item in your fridge that could be called a “topping” and put each in its own tiny bowl.
Warm the wraps. Then, put everything on the table and watch as children who “never eat anything” eat everything. It’s those tiny bowls – and designing one’s own “taco” – that makes even the pickiest person an adventurous eater.
• Job, 5-year-old: Pluck fresh herb leaves from the stems.
• Job, 10-year-old: Chop/ dice/slice all of those toppings.
• Job, 13-year-old: TikTok while bringing out the tiny bowls.
Trick #3: Be a homemade pasta hero
Making fresh pasta is cooking at its simplest, but is also empowering and strangely meditative. Embracing my inner nonna, I even wear an apron – and have been known to intentionally smear flour on my face for added effect.
Making long, wide ribbon cuts like tagliatelle is easy, and it does not require a pasta machine. Mix dough in a food processor, let it rest, then roll into long, thin sheets you can see through. Once complete, simply roll up the sheets and slice. The first bite will remind you why you made it.
• Job, 5-year-old: Roll out small sections of dough into mini pasta sheets.
• Job, 10-year-old: Mix ingredients, knead dough, wrap for resting.
• Job, 13-year-old: TikTok while tossing hot pasta with truffle butter.
But they’re messing it up!
Who really cares? Only you. And me.
Ok, I’ll admit I have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut while kids are cooking, constantly wanting to correct them because the aesthetic isn’t right, they’re making a mess, or they’re taking too long.
But, unless you let them make things ugly, they’ll never make things beautiful. At least that’s what I tell myself while biting my tongue.
Stock your pantry with staples. Find a great local source for grocery pickup or delivery. Take time to find new recipes that utilize what you have on-hand. Make the entire family part of the process.
Maybe you’ll find that cooking can be less of a task and more of a team-builder. Before you know it, you’ll even be TikTok-ing together.
The writer is owner and “Cheese Lady” of Cheesetique.