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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

(Editor’s note: please welcome Jocelyn who clearly knows what it takes to get boys interested in cooking. Thanks Jocelyn!)

We all know how insanely romantic it is when we were asked out on a date and the man not only knew the difference between basil and balsamic but offered to actually cook us a meal and then managed to pull it off spectacularly and delight us with tastes and smells we’d never experienced before. Right? Right. Well, have you now, oh-mother-of-a-four-year-old-boy ever wondered how in the world that happens? Have you ever banged your head into a wall trying to determine just how his momma pulled that off? Because, you, like me, can probably pretty quickly deduce that that man didn’t start cooking when he was 10 or 18. No, I’d put money on the fact that his mom had him in the kitchen since the day he was born.

Now, you may be staring hopelessly at your little man and finally understanding why the Calvin and Hobbes’ forays at the dinner table are actually so insanely accurate and wondering how you can possibly get him to understand food is for food, not for painting the walls. But, not to fear! Give your future daughter-in-law something to thank you for someday and start training him in the kitchen today. Yes, not tomorrow when you’re sure to be “less-tired”, today. Here are some of the very easiest ways not only to get him to eat, but to get him interested in helping you. I know, mind-blowing right? Not really, stick with me.

Roll with the Dinosaur Food While it Makes Sense

You might be tempted to feel like it’s annoying to have to pretend that every salad is Tyrannosaurus food and every spoonful of mashed potatoes just a volcano in the making, but let me tell you something, in 10 years when you can’t get that teenage boy to sit down and eat a meal with you for anything (minus, except maybe money), you will give anything to dye the gravy orange for appropriate lava effect. So, if it helps get him interested in what you’re doing, then I say roll with it while you can!

Make Shopping the Manly Thing to Do

You’d be amazed, if a food is a food that they chose themselves and handpicked, they’re going to be a heck of a lot more likely to eat it, even if it is a zucchini or avocado. Take your son shopping and give him an opportunity to pick 2 or 3 things. Hopefully you will be firmly planted in a semi “safe” area for this to happen in when you make the announcement, like the produce section as opposed to the candy or ice cream aisle. Heck, he might not even like tomatoes, but only you know that, and if he picked it, he’ll probably eat it just out of spite because he picked that particular one, and who knows, he may decide he likes it after all. Also, if he can pick something that he actually really does like (Maybe a yogurt? Maybe a cheese? Maybe a candy bar…) it will all help to mold the idea of grocery shopping into something good and something exciting. Deal is, you can never pick the same thing twice. And, if you can get dad involved in these shopping trips, (and dad picking good stuff) better yet.

Make it Easy (for Starters) and Beware of Overwhelming

There was a point in my life when I loved doing the dishes. At my home, once we reached a certain age, then we had to join in the dishes rotation. But me? I was too anxious to wait for this age, so I would regularly ask my brothers if I could do their dishes for them. However. I very vividly remember one night in particular when I had oh so joyfully volunteered to do the dishes for my eldest brother. But, once finished, I was in all heaps of trouble with my mom because I had not done the proper cleanup of the countertops and tables, and if I was going to do the dishes than I had to expect to do the rest and I better do the rest well. Well, guess what, that was the last time I ever volunteered to do the dishes, and I’ve hated them ever since. Go figure.

The moral of this story: don’t overwhelm. Take what you can get and applaud it. If you’re cooking, then let him cook with you, but have the prep work done and plan to take care of the cleanup afterwards yourself, even if he’s the one who made the gigantic mess and even if he’s perfectly capable of cleaning up said gigantic mess. Too much time at any one thing: prep work + cooking + cleanup is generally too much, and the end result is that the whole thing will wear him out and become unpleasant in his mind, which is the last thing you want. Have him help with prep and nothing else, or have him help with cooking and nothing else. Unless, of course, he wants to do more. Then use your best judgment. (Editor’s note: boys LOVE to crush ingredients with the rolling pin. Just make sure to supervise.)

Make the Stuff he REALLY Likes. Occasionally

He’s a young boy. Unless you’re blessed with a miracle boy who loves his green veggies more than his candy bars, you probably have to accept the fact that he loves the stuff that isn’t the best for him. Encourage him to help you make healthy portions of the main meal, and then as a occasional treat, do something really fun like pull out the ice cream maker and make homemade ice cream for dessert or for his birthday party. Let him grate cheese till his arms fall off for the macaroni and cheese he’s in love with. It’s still “work,” but it has a reward that he will love and that will help to build upon that notion of kitchen/cooking as rewarding and something he’d like to do more of.

It’s all a learning process, for both you and him. Whatever you can do to make it more fun and easier for him, the better off you’ll both be. Have quizzes about what might be in a certain dish and start training him to discern tastes and flavors. You’ll be amazed at what a 4 year old boy can pick up when he really wants to. More than anything, just enjoy your hands-on time with him, regardless of the mess and the patience required, because someday these days will be just precious and much missed memories.

Freelancer Jocelyn Anne writes primarily about families and her passion is to encourage them to eat healthier and enjoy the act of cooking as a family. At the moment she’s writing for an online company promoting small room heaters to save families the cost and energy of central systems this winter.

Earnest Parenting: tips for parents who want their boys to sweep women off their feet someday with their culinary skills.

Photo provided courtesy of sean dreillinger via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.