I believe in food. Really really believe in it. I love food. Eating it, preparing, and especially sharing it. It makes me happy. And over the last few years becoming a [Step] Mom it’s been one of the most unifying things for my family. The kitchen is the heart of our home.
When I first came into my three step kids lives I was unsure of so many things. Boundaries weren’t yet clearly defined. And so it was hard to know what parental roles were okay to assume. But cooking, that was always easy. Lots of people cooked. Not just parents.
There were adjustments. I was used to cooking for one, or occasionally a few friends. Now I was cooking for 5, 3 of whom were tiny humans under the age of 6. I also ate incredibly clean and in a way that catered to long distance running (I had recently completed my first marathon). Now I was serving ranch alongside what seemed like everything.
Despite these adjustments, the kitchen was where I felt the most confident in my new role. It was my happy place. The place where I didn’t have to question what was right or wrong or worry about stepping on toes. And it started to become the heart of our home.
Becoming the Heart of Our Home
The kitchen became the heart of our home gradually. I slowly started introducing different foods. Starting with easy foods like sweet potatoes and hummus. And at the same time started decreasing the use of things like ranch and butter. I know, the horror.
I also started to change the expectations in terms of table rules. This was the hardest change as it took my husband and I some time to come to an agreement. But once we did, everything really started to change. The rule became that what was on your plate had to be eaten. That’s it. You don’t eat it, you go to bed. Simple. I gave appropriate portions for each kid. And off we went. It took two times sending my youngest stepdaughter, then 4, to bed and we’ve never had a problem since.
This might seem harsh to some. But the way I see it is unless you have an allergy, no food will kill you. Similarly, one missed meal won’t kill you either. So, in my house, you eat what’s served for two reasons. One, if you eat well balanced, you’re healthier. Two, be grateful for the food that’s put in front of you.
Expectations Turn into the Norm
As the kids have gotten older certain exceptions are made. Everybody has dislikes and likes. And at this point, all of the kids try anything with zero fuss. So when they say they really just don’t like something, we respect that. My son hates tomatoes, so he doesn’t have to have those in his salad helping. But honestly, beyond that, there are very few food aversions in the family as a whole. And the reason really is because of the expectations we’ve set. Having tried so many foods, they’re open and even excited to try new things.
More than these expectations though, my kids eat so well because we’ve made the kitchen the heart of our home. Over the years it’s becoming more than just the place I cook. Or we eat. It’s where we talk. Where we learn. We start and end our days together. The kids see me in my zone here; trying out new recipes and completely unguarded. And most importantly they get involved.
Getting Everyone Involved
I have two boards in the kitchen. One is a menu board where I have the dinners for the week listed, the breakfast and their lunches. The other is our weekly schedule, they play a lot of sports. These boards center our family. It gives the kids a sense of ownership. They get up and get their own breakfasts, pack their own lunches and they know what dinner to expect that night.
What this has done is teach my kids how to be as excited about food and as comfortable preparing it as I am. They’re not cooking on the stove or using the oven unattended, yet. But they know their way around the kitchen. They know what they like and don’t like. Understand what a balanced meal looks like. And probably most importantly they appreciate the food our family has. They feel grateful for it.
Where we Spend Our Time
Part of this is because they’ve come, I think, to genuinely enjoy cooking and baking. But more of it is that the kitchen really is the heart of our home. The kitchen doesn’t just represent food, it represents our family. We have some of our best conversations here. Some of our best moments. Two nights ago the family spent our time, not in front of the TV, but hanging out in the kitchen. Dinner was done, chores were done and we were all hanging. By choice, we didn’t force them all to hange out here. My oldest girls got rollerblades for Christmas and my son a longboard. They were playing on these, singing along with Alexa while the baby danced on the table (with my husband right there). I’m not exaggerating this at all.
Yes, the kitchen is our place. The heart and soul of our family. Whether the day is bad or great. In chaos and calm. No matter the day, the kitchen is the heart of our family. Its where I found my footing as a [Step] Mom. It’s where my children are learning to take care of themselves. They’re learning the value of eating well. And most importantly it’s where we as a family can be exactly ourselves.