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How An Episode Of Chopped Junior Changed The Way I Parent

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“Mom, can I bake something?” It was a familiar plea from my 8-year-old who had just walked into the kitchen.

Why did she want to bake something now of all times? I had just finished cooking a dinner with six different dishes to please our family of five. The kitchen was a mess and I was in no mood to clean it up just to get it messy again. I sighed.

“Not right now, sweetie, I’m just cleaning up and it’ll be too much of a mess.” She looked a little defeated, but it also seemed like the answer she was expecting. She trailed out of the kitchen, probably to watch another episode of some annoying laugh-track show on Disney Channel.

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I’m embarrassed to admit how often these conversations occurred throughout the years. It’s not that I never let my daughter help out around the kitchen – she often joined me when I cooked dinner and baked desserts. I let her do things I deemed acceptable for an 8-year-old.

Granted, they were simple tasks like ingredient gathering, pouring, and mixing. But, I didn’t want her cracking the eggs for fear of getting eggshells in the batter and I didn’t let her wash the bowls because she wasn’t very thorough. I also didn’t want her to use the stove or oven in case she was careless and got burned.

Occassionally I would tell my daughter, “I don’t need any help right now, but you can be the guinea pig taste tester when it’s done.”
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But all of that changed one rainy night. I walked into our den to find my daughter watching a show on the Food Network called “Chopped Junior”. I decided to join her, and I sat staring at the screen for the full 20 minutes absolutely stunned. These kids knew their way around the kitchen better than most adults!

They used razor-sharp knives with amazing dexterity, they sauteed, boiled, and pan-seared. One little kid even made a roux.

I marveled at their skill and I wondered how the heck these children became so talented in the kitchen. And then it hit me. It was so simple. They could do all of those things because somewhere along the line, somebody told them “YES.”

I decided that I would try an experiment. Every time my daughter asked me to do something in the kitchen, I would say yes.

“Mom, can I bake cookies?” Yes.
“Mom, can I make scrambled eggs?” Yes.
“Mom, can I make Mac n Cheese?” Yes.
“Mom, can I make a quesadilla?” Yes.
“Mom, can I make homemade frosting?” Yes.
“Mom, can I use a bunch of your baking stuff and make up my own recipe?” Ugh. Yes.

And so it began. I won’t lie, this was a messy, time-consuming project. At first, she needed a lot of help learning how to work the oven, the right way to hold certain utensils, how to set the timers, etc. The kitchen seemed like it was permanently sticky for a while and the sink always had some variation of pans, bowls, and/or spatulas stacked up.

It was amazing to see her confidence and capability grow. The more I said yes, the more she wanted to do. I rarely had to explain something twice, and before long she was looking up her own recipes and doing it all by herself.
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Here we are a year later and I don’t regret a single second. Of all the parenting decisions I’ve ever made – and with children who are 18, 15 and 9, I’ve made a lot of decisions – I can honestly say this “experiment” was one of my best parenting moves.

This kid could cook our family breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert if she had to. She can crack an egg one-handed (I can’t even do that) and can saute’ broccoli with the best of ’em. Her homemade chocolate cupcakes are the best I’ve ever had.

My daughter will have these skills, this confidence in herself, for the rest of her life. And that to me, is worth all the wasted eggs, the spilled milk, the messy kitchen.

In conclusion, I want to encourage all you parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and anyone who has a little kid in their lives: really stop and think when your child asks to do something, not just in the kitchen, that might result in them learning a new life skill.

For all the time and energy you will have to put in up front, there is a huge payoff at the end. I know this because tomorrow I have to bring in 24 cupcakes for a pot luck event. And I’m sitting here writing this article. Because guess what?

The cupcakes are being handled. And if I’m really good, she might even let me be the guinea pig.

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