Get your children in the kitchen helping out with the weekly cooking chores! They learn valuable skills and you get a break! Free Cooking Schedule Template included!
I’m going to start with my story, so if you only want the step-by-step set up information, scroll to that section (the FREE Cooking Schedule Template is down there as well!). But, it might be beneficial for you to see where I’m coming from and the process I went through to get here.
For many years, the meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, and clean up fell to me. The children simply weren’t old enough to help in any substantial way and my husband was super busy with work or deployed.
When my oldest was 8, I learned about the concept of Table Chores and began teaching my oldest two children how to pitch in to clean up after meals.
READ >> Kitchen Chores for Children (includes a video and a free chore list!)
When he was 13, he began regularly helping in the kitchen with various meal preparations, and by the time he was 16, he was my official ground beef man. (He eventually caught on to the fact that this title was bestowed on him mainly because his mother hates touching raw meat!)
When it came to children cooking, it was pretty random and mostly involved me calling one or more of them into the kitchen to help with random needs. Stir this, cut that, grab me the milk – you get the idea.
What I wanted in a cooking schedule
However, despite having regular Table Chores and kids who were getting plenty old enough to take over cooking meals on their own, I avoided making any sort of regular cooking schedule.
The reason? I have never seen one I thought would work for us.
You see, I had 2 stipulations when it came to sharing a cooking schedule.
- It must fit our family’s need for flexibility.
- It must be easy to remember and easy to manage.
Other Large Family Cooking Schedules
The cooking schedules some of my large family mom friends had implemented did not fit my criteria. But it’s worth mentioning what they did, and why it didn’t work for me. There’s a chance one of these WILL work for you, so I hate to ignore them in this post.
For instance, one friend had a daughter who took over ALL of the meal planning, shopping, and cooking at the age of 16. That method didn’t fit our family. Firstly, because I had no teen who could take over all of these chores, and secondly, because I didn’t want one child to do all of it anyway.
Another friend had her kids rotate cooking Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner every 2 days. That wasn’t something I felt I could remember and subsequently, manage. It was too random for my brain to keep track of.
I knew another friend whose children rotated cooking chores every month, but that was too much for one teen in my family to be responsible for, considering work schedules and other activities.
So, I avoided making any sort of shared cooking schedule…until I could avoid it no more.
Why I needed my children to help cook
As my children got older, my responsibilities as a wife and mother changed. I no longer had a nursling and my toddler had grown into a preschooler. My job description became less physically demanding and became more mentally and emotionally demanding.
And as my children became more self-sufficient, my husband needed me more. I had more freedom to be away from the house, but with that freedom came different responsibilities that sometimes made being home in time to cook dinner difficult. In fact, I often found myself out running errands at the 4 or 5 o’clock mark when I *should* have been starting dinner.
We began eating lots of frozen pizza, very few vegetables, and sometimes I would avoid dinner altogether. It was just one more thing on my already too-busy schedule.
But I hated how things had become.
Our time as a family was suffering because we weren’t eating together. And I was feeling guilty for not cooking dinner every night.
Something had to change!
One evening, I sat down with my husband, Ty, and poured out my heart about our family meal times (or lack thereof) and how stressed and overwhelmed and guilt-ridden I was over it all.
Ty suggested I have the kids take turns cooking to take some of that overwhelm off my plate, but I quickly informed him that no cooking plan I knew other large family moms had implemented would work.
He said, “Then make one that does work.”
So, I sat down that very evening with a pen and paper and began brainstorming. I guess all I needed was permission to do my own thing.
How I made a Cooking Rotation for the children
Remember my 2 stipulations?
- Must be flexible.
- Must be easy to remember.
Flexible meant I had to be able to shift kids around on the schedule as needed. If we had company, a meal out, or we were traveling somewhere, I didn’t want the schedule to get messed up and off track because of it.
It also had to be ordered in a way that at any given moment I knew who was cooking that night. I seriously do not need one more thing to keep track of.
So, here’s how it all went down…
When my 20 year old daughter is away at college, I have 2 children capable of cooking on their own (ages 15 & 17), and one (age 12) who is learning. So, I decided the older kids would cook two nights a week each and the 12 year old would cook one night, leaving me to cook one night plus Sunday, which is usually a snacky day.
I chose Wednesday as my day to cook because my older kids have work and then Youth Group, leaving very little time for them to pull together a meal.
NOTE: When my 20 year old is home from college, I plug her into my Wednesday slot because she loves to cook and try new recipes.
Because I knew the 12 year old would need help, I put him on Saturdays so that I could help him or he might not need to cook at all because we were gone on a weekend trip.
So, basically, the schedule boils down to:
Monday – 17 year old
Tuesday – 15 year old
Wednesday – Mom
Thursday – 17 year old
Friday – 15 year old
Saturday – 12 year old
Sunday – Mom
2 Ways to Plan Meals
We use 2 different methods for the kids to plan their meals. These depend on what season we are in. The moral of this story is to avoid locking yourself into only one way of doing things because inevitably, something will change and you won’t be able to make just one way work. So, having 2 ways of managing things gives you flexibility (stipulation #1 for me!).
#1 – Letting the kids choose the meals
When we first started this cooking rotation, I let the kids choose the meals they wanted to make each week. I would ask them at the beginning of the week, and then add the ingredients they needed for their meals to my grocery list.
- The kids like what they are making, and enjoy cooking it.
- Teaches them how to plan a meal and manage the ingredients needed.
- Often requires “extra” ingredients I may not have on hand.
- Can be expensive depending on what they choose.
#2 – Kids cook the meals mom chooses
Recently, with the food shortages, I found myself needing to change how we were managing the cooking rotation. I often could not find all of the ingredients my kids wanted, and I was becoming more and more inclined to create a stockpile and rotate through that stockpile with meals that came directly from our pantry stores.
LISTEN >> Foods I Buy in Bulk – Podcast #108
In this episode, I talk more about how and what we are stockpiling.
So, rather than allowing the kids to choose what to cook every week, I made a large list of meals for them to choose from with ingredients I almost always have on hand.
- Uses what is already in your pantry.
- Gives you a level of control over what is being served each night.
- Kids aren’t always thrilled about the meal choices.
- Gives kids less control over the meal planning.
Ultimately, both plans work and have made things much better for our family meal time!
How having a cooking schedule helped me and my family
With a set cooking rotation, I am able to run my errands and manage household issues without stopping to make dinner. We are eating together as a family with everyone sharing the load.
In many ways, this all seems so simple. Why didn’t I do this YEARS ago? Why even write a post about something anyone could figure out on their own?!
Because this wasn’t just about getting the kids to help with cooking dinner.
It was about me.
I avoided having the kids share in the cooking responsibilities beyond calling them in randomly to cook meat or chop onions or make iced tea because I was hanging onto an ideal.
Making dinner was my job.
I felt like it was all I had left of those little years when I had no helpers and everything fell to me. I was wearing rose-colored glasses and mourning the change away from how things used to be. I was hanging on white-knuckled, to my past life and not embracing my new season of motherhood – one with the blessings of big kids!
I felt GUILTY that I wasn’t doing it all anymore. And I felt a bit out of control too.
(Boy, that sounds weird to say…but I’m being honest.)
So, if by chance you’re reading this post and feeling a bit paralyzed from guilt and nostalgia and loss of control over the little things, know you are not alone and it truly is a good thing to let go of your grip a bit and ease yourself into a new season of motherhood.
Oh, and if you are like *my* mom and feel guilty asking for help when your kids are so busy, let go of that too!
You see, I never learned to manage a household as a teen because I was busy with sports and academics. Subsequently, I had to muddle my way through many years of very inefficient and downright awkward homemaking – all because my mom didn’t want to add more to my teenage plate. I wish she had.
How a cooking schedule helps my children
What we’ve chosen to do is teach our kids how to manage their time and expectations in homemaking.
For instance, if we are busy on Friday when we usually clean the entire house, we either do a quick modified clean on Friday morning or we do the cleaning on Thursday evening. We don’t NOT clean the house, we just change what that cleaning looks like.
Likewise, if it’s your night to cook and you are working during the day, keep the meal simple.
Being an effective home manager means knowing what needs to be done and implementing a plan that gets you there.
Ok, that’s my story. Here’s where your story starts…
If you are just here for the how to and the freebie, start here!
How to Make a Shared Cooking Schedule
When it comes to making a shared cooking schedule, consider the following things:
- Who can help cook?
- When can they help cook?
- What do you want them to cook?
- What kind of schedule will be easy to remember and manage?
Who can help cook?
Consider the ages and abilities of the people living in your home. As I said earlier, I have a 12 year old, 15 year old, 17 year old, and sometimes a 20 year old who are capable of cooking.
Perhaps you have an extended family member living with you or your husband is able to help cook as well. You may also need to train up some of your children who would be capable if they had the skills (something we are currently doing with the 11 year old).
If you need a little guidance, look at the Kids Cook Real Food classes! These classes can be parent or child led, and offer practical skills with healthy foods.
Ultimately, you should only choose people who are able to cook an entire meal without help (or very little help), otherwise the cooking schedule won’t take much pressure off of you, and might actually ADD to your plate.
When can they help cook?
READ >> Large Family Birthdays
Don’t overthink this! Your kids can still cook a simple meal even if they are busy working or doing school. We all have to know how to adjust and adapt!
What do you want them to cook?
Do you want them to learn traditional family favorites? Do you want them to cook from a set meal plan? Do you want them to learn to cook from the pantry? Or do you want them to choose their own meals and sides?
This doesn’t need to be set in stone. You can let the kids choose for a week and then have them cook from the pantry to use up ingredients before vacation. Just have a general idea or two of where you want to start.
Don’t forget: If they are choosing their own meals, have a day when you get their menu plan and add what they need to your grocery list!
What kind of schedule will be easy to remember and manage?
If your cooking schedule is complicated, you won’t be able to implement it for long. It needs to be simple and easy to remember. It also needs to reflect your unique family.
A family that rarely travels and has a fairly set weekly routine may be able to do a 1-2 week rotating schedule.
A family with only one capable helper plus mom may do every other day or take a whole month at a time.
Our family has a lot of random events pop up in the course of a week, so our schedule is based on days of the week. (You can see our schedule above.)
Whatever you do, keep it simple and manageable!
And to help you keep it simple and manageable, I have a FREE Cooking Schedule Template (with an example page so you can see how it works). It has a space for the name of whomever is cooking plus a space for the meal they will be cooking. Print it out, put it on your refrigerator, and make your life easier!
Suggestion: Write everything in pencil so you can change it easily!
Now you have all the tools you need to make your own Cooking Schedule! I hope it blesses your family as much as it has blessed ours!
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