Do you have school age kids who are staying home alone this summer? If so, then my question for you is this: do you let them cook?
It’s been quite the epiphany that my parenting skills have been lacking here. How do I know? Because I remember my first summer staying home alone. My first lesson was how far in advance I needed to decide when I’d be hungry. My favorite lunch, Stouffer’s lasagna, took 50 minutes to heat in the oven. We didn’t own a microwave.
Let that sink in for a moment. We didn’t own a microwave. Do you realize what that meant? It meant I learned to cook at a young age. That’s right, I used the oven and stove top even when I was home alone. My own child hadn’t used those appliances with me around. We had some catching up to do.
So, what’s for lunch in the fridge?
There are still a lot of lunch options that don’t require cooking. Yogurt, fruit, cheese, raw veggies or salad mixes, deli meat, and sandwich spreads could suffice for the entire summer. It’s basically what mine eats for lunch every school day since he takes his, refusing to eat cafeteria food.
But, can he assemble a full balanced plate? I don’t want him snacking all day long. I want him sticking to a meal routine. So, I’ve found that he still needs prompting on how to do that.
We talk about what’s for lunch. I allow choices and a modicum of independence, but I also know that I’m not going to go grocery shopping every day. I want that full Monday fridge to last until Friday. So together we’ve practiced what a normal serving of several things looks like.
PRACTICE: Nutritious combos and appropriate serving sizes
What can be microwaved?
Yes, we have one! I’m guessing that you do, too. The microwave opens a myriad of options for lunch. Do you refrigerate dinner leftovers? Be sure to separate into individual servings and you’re set. Do you allow/purchase frozen dinners? Voila. Give your child a budget and take them shopping for the week.
But the microwave allows for a bit more. I’m thinking mainly breakfast type meals here. A bowl of oatmeal with toppings or a bowl of grits with cheese and bacon bits makes for a great lunch at our house. And, your child can feel some sense of accomplishment with beginner cooking.
PRACTICE: What plates and bowls can go in the microwave vs the things are not microwavable. Typical reheating times for things they’ll want to eat. How to clean up a mess in the microwave.
What about the toaster?
The toaster is the next appliance I allow during home alone time. There’s something about a sandwich on toasted bread that makes it – well, if not better then at least different than the norm. Bagels are also better toasted in our family opinion. Be sure that your child can slice the bagel if the ones you buy are not pre sliced!
With the addition of this appliance to the can-use list, I added fire extinguisher know-how. Yes, you need a fire extinguisher in your kitchen.
PRACTICE: Toaster use, including advice on the time setter and how to safely pick up the hot bread when it’s done. Where the fire extinguisher is located and how to use it, along with some talk on when to use it and when to just get out. I’m not expecting a toaster fire, but I am married to a safety engineer.
What about the oven?
Look, I have a son and I’m not ever imagining coming home to box mix brownies fresh from the oven. (I was VERY young when I started making these and cookies!) But this could happen for you. You go ahead and teach yours how to measure water and oil and crack an egg (more on egg cracking later!) but for us, oven privileges mean heating that frozen pizza.
PRACTICE: Setting the oven temp and any calculations you do because of your own oven’s miscalibrations. (We set ours up to 50 degrees less than recipes state.) How to use the timer feature so you do not forget the oven is in use. How to safely get the hot food out of the oven. How to turn the oven off. Don’t laugh – you need to leave nothing out when you’re training a newbie to anything.
What about the stovetop?
This is the one that I left for last. We’re working on it. Seriously. This week my goal is to teach our son how to make his most requested breakfast/lunch dish – the egg sandwich. Success here and I’ll basically be finished.
With stovetop know how and confidence, he can also make a grilled cheese and a quesadilla. I’m quite aware that you can get one of those cute microwave omelet makers and simply place that omelet between two slices of bread, but I’m ready to go wild here.
Consider an electric frying pan if you are scared to give yours free reign with the stove top at first. But I’m going to tell you right now – learning to crack those eggs is going to be our own hardest task.
PRACTICE: Make two grilled cheese sandwiches together. Then, grab a can of tomato bisque soup, let your little darling practice popping the top, pouring into a pot and heating it! OR…
- toast two pieces of bread in the toaster,
- take them out safely without burning your fingers,
- put a slice of cheese in between the slices,
- place the sandwich on a microwavable plate,
- and heat until the cheese melts!
What are you teaching your child to cook? Do you let them cook when home alone?