“What should we make,” my kids asked each other in the grocery store the other day.
Tacos. Chicken. Rice. Macaroni and cheese. They pingponged between ideas before deciding on a pasta with diced tomatoes, chicken sausage and corn served with a cucumber salad.
My daughter, who’s almost 8, and my son, who’s 10, are tasked with cooking dinner once a week. It’s been an on-again, off-again chore that began as them contributing a dish to most meals.
For awhile, it was fun having them in the kitchen to help with dinner, creating something we’d all enjoy. But with homework and sports and friends, it became a greater burden then benefit to the household. Eventually, I let that chore slide, focusing on other ones: taking the trash out, putting dishes away and picking up after themselves.
Still, I truly believe that cooking, and being able to put together a meal is an essential skill. So the chore is back again just in time for the new school year, but this time with a fresh spin: they have to make dinner once a week together — and they have to plan it themselves. It’s more responsibility, but only one night.
Can two kids plan one dinner a week and make it happen? I think so.
As I told my mother over the weekend, I would rather they face the sheer panic of not knowing quite how to put together foods to make a meal now while I am standing there to help, then have them go off to college and not know how to feed themselves. And really, that’s what I saw in the grocery store the other day. At first, they wanted to make a meal like I do. Then they wanted to rely on convenience foods. But eventually, with a little nudging, they came up with an idea that’s both simple and fresh.
My son will cook the pasta, timing it with a kitchen timer and draining it with some help from me. Then they’ll mix in the drained diced tomatoes, sliced pre-cooked chicken sausages, corn and whatever seasonings they choose. My daughter will peel cut and construct a cucumber salad of some sort.
While this meal might not be slated for a Michelin-starred restaurant experience, it will be special. Because they thought it up and made it.
Ultimately, that once a week dinner is really a great big learning experience for them. I’m hoping that with a little time and guidance, they’ll realize how many things they can make with their existing kitchen knowledge. Rice bowls, for instance, are as easy as making rice, chopping some veggies and mixing it all together. Breakfast for dinner with eggs, sausage, toast and fruit is just taking foods they know how to make and having them for another meal. And sauces and dressings can turn something ordinary into something extraordinary.
Like this Basil Vinaigrette. It’s among the simplest dressings I make — ready in less than five minutes and adds oomph to everything from the simplest tomato salad to baked potatoes, roasted chicken and more.
With just six ingredients, and a whirl in the blender, how can you go wrong?
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- ¾ cup packed basil leaves
- 1 tbsp honey
- salt and pepper, to taste (start with about ½ tsp each)
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Add the red wine vinegar, basil, honey, salt and pepper to a blender and whirl until well combined. With the blender running, drizzle in the olive oil a little at a time until fully combined. Enjoy on your favorite salad.