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School's out. Now what?

Ideas for savoring (and surviving) summer with the kids.

The first week that school was out, I knew it was going to be a long summer.

Although the four kids were looking forward to lazy mornings filled with pancakes and television, I still had to stick to a work schedule. 

No problem, I thought. My girls are old enough to get their own meals, organize games and play outside with their younger siblings.

What I didn't count on was the added work that having us home all day creates. More time in the house translates into more eating, more dishes, more garbage and, of course, more laundry. And working on my computer for about 30 hours a week means less time for damage control.

I needed help.

And then it hit me. I have help: four live-in helpers who work for little to no pay.

Children naturally like to help at a young age. If I could just find appropriate chores for each one, maybe that would keep the house in decent order, making life a little less chaotic.

I'm not talking spotless. I don't think I've experienced spotless in my home since last winter when one of us supposedly had H1N1. One child down with that virus is a strong motivator to disinfect and scour every surface, wash every stuffed animal and bathe everyone twice daily.

I contemplated which daily chore consumed the most time, and undoubtedly it was meal planning. So I asked the kids to cook dinner once a week.

During a typical week, I cook five nights, finish leftovers another night and order in pizza once. If the kids would take over planning for one meal a week, making enough for leftovers, that would mean I only needed to plan three dinners a week.

And so it began.

The four kids sat down with a dry erase board to plan the summer meals, assigning one "course" to each child. After fighting over who got to write what in which color marker, a plan was born with no involvement on my part. They made a grocery list, we went to the store and I went back to working while they adorned themselves with aprons for the big feast.

And feast we did.

The menu included some hors d'oeuvres (or "our derves" as the 5-year-old says), freshly squeezed lemonade, green salad, homemade meatballs with pasta and delicious honey cream caramels. Grown-up hands were only needed twice: to pour the bubbling caramel and strain the pasta.

I'm a realist and understand that not every week's dinner will be tackled with this initial exuberance, but I certainly was proud of my quartet of cooks. If you want to try this with your gang, be sure to set them up for success. I only had a few guidelines:

  1. The meal had to be relatively nutritious. We were not eating banana splits for dinner.
  2. Keep it simple. Although "simple" apparently is not in my foodie children's vocabulary, I made it clear that even sandwiches would be a great dinner. As long as they didn't contain Fluff.
  3. Clean up. You make the mess, you clean it up. It's part of the process.

We're on our third week of Kids' Dinner Night, and I am amazed at their creativity and talent. And it's not just the food. There aren't many things sweeter to a parent than hearing the busting activity of their children working happily together.

Now, about that laundry…

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