Fight boredom: Keep kids busy by putting them in charge of making dinner

Fight boredom: Keep kids busy by putting them in charge of making dinner

In the aftermath that follows unwrapping the presents and avoiding writing thank you notes, the kids turn to you to for entertainment. For the next few days, Tween Us is armed with suggestions to get you and your kids through winter break, and have fun together and with others. Preempt the cries of “I’m bored!”

Yesterday’s suggestion was to have your kid(s) throw a party, but if you want to keep it smaller, put the kids in charge of making dinner.

Anyone remember in the Ramona books when she and her sister, Beezus, were put in charge of dinner after not being helpful around the house? They learned a lot of valuable lessons. Follow the Quimbys’ lead and, after the holiday leftovers are gone, put your tweens in charge of dinner for an evening, This project is adaptable by age, and not only will it keep your kids busy, they will learn lots, and gain some appreciation for your hard work.

When I say have them do dinner, I mean the whole thing.  This can take up a ton of time if you and they do it right.

Plan the meal

Start by asking the kids what they want to serve? Have your kid(s) go through cook books, or browse online to find recipes that appeal to them and that are feasible. This is also a good chance to talk about nutrition, and the elements of a balanced meal.

Point out to them that they can keep it easy with whole foods – salads are fun and easy, just as slicing fresh fruit is doable, fast and healthy. Soups are also pretty easy, as are breakfast foods, especially if you’re observing or just starting Meatless Monday. Find my great-grandmother’s crepe recipe here. My tween can make these by herself and takes great pride in doing so.

Those items are pretty quick and easy. If you’re looking to keep your charges busier longer, have them look up some recipes. offers recipes broken down by age for cooking here, from ages 4-7, 8-11, and 12-15. Find more kid-friendly recipes here.  Kids Health has a list of recipes here, Seventeen Magazine offers tween-friendly ideas and recipes here and there are some new recipes I want to try from here.

Once they know what they’re making, have the kids make a list of ingredients. Then have them check what items you already have in the pantry. Then have them list out what they need to buy. Once they’ve written a grocery list, it’s your call whether or not to take them grocery shopping. If you’re really looking to kill time and keep it educational, give them a budget and have them work out the cost of different ingredients. Maybe let them keep the change, if there is any, and see how quickly those generic brands become appealing.

Once the food is in the house, let the cooking begin!

Have your kids do all the prep they can do on their own. This will vary by your children’s age and experience, but try to have them do as much as they as is safely possible, from tearing lettuce to making the vinaigrette, from mixing a marinade to assembling a casserole. Another math activity is charting out what needs to go in the over when to finish on time.

If their culinary efforts do not go as planned, help them navigate the problem(s) but make it clear that they need to be problem solvers here. Giving up isn’t an option for you when you have a family to feed, and it isn’t an option for them either. Here’s another chance to learn some resilience.

Younger children who aren’t quite ready for cooking are not left out here. They can set the table, make menus, take drink orders, and help with the easier parts of the food prep.

Parent advice: Make sure you and the kids have either a big lunch or a hearty snack in the afternoon, in case dinner is late, or not so tasty.

Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere, clean up, clean up everybody do your share

Have your kids handle the clearing of the dishes and the clean up of the kitchen.  They probably won’t feel like, but then again, you don’t feel like it after you’ve fixed a big dinner, and you do it anyway.

Even if this culinary effort goes poorly or if there are complaints, the dinner preparation process may motivate your tween(s) to find something to entertain themselves next time and think twice before announcing that they are bored.

Tomorrow’s boredom buster: Easy, cheap, fun craft ideas

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