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Connecting with My Teens in the Kitchen

I constantly experience the mysteries of combining food and teenagers and how that impacts our time together. This dynamic blossomed from years of cooking and baking with them when they were young children. And it further developed as I watched them hunt, gather, and make recipes on their own.

For me, cooking was therapy. As soon as a baby was in the crib for an afternoon nap, I would create a dinner or bake something that made me feel good. As my children got older, it became an activity that we did together.

Old family videos show my daughter reciting my sister’s banana bread recipe. Her big curls so soft, dangling little feet off the counter, her little fingers sticky with batter. Our kitchen is the hub of all activity—intense conversations, life changing decisions, big family dinners, and heartfelt talks.

As our lives have become faster paced and every person has a different schedule, eating dinner takes place these days in shifts. I am sure that most parents of teens understand this routine only too well. One person eats, followed hours later by the next kid to finally get home and then we start the dessert rotation. Sometimes I feel like I never leave the kitchen. But it’s my choice to stay and reheat.

No matter what time they arrive home, and even if I have already eaten my own meal, I sit with them.

I throw the food on a plate, microwave it until it resembles what it looked like at 6:30 p.m., hand it over, and sit. Why do I feel compelled to do this? Because that’s when my teenagers talk. If I sit and stay quiet for a few minutes, I get what I need: random comments about something troubling them; an announcement about a good grade; remarks about teachers or friends. You name it –  everything comes out before they ask what’s for dessert.

My mantra is that “food is glue.”

It brings my kids to me for one little part of their day, after missing them for many hours. I know they are occasionally annoyed and sometimes just want to be alone, but I try and pick up on their hints. It’s easy to busy myself cleaning the kitchen. And soon enough, I can slide back in my chair while they finish.

Watching my three children cook independently is also nice. Both boys are eager to try new things. And it’s a load off of me when I can simply hand over some cash and tell them to find a recipe and make it. The oldest is usually the shopper and sous-chef, while our middle son (the Food Network junkie) serves as commander-in-chief. My daughter simply wants to be a part of their fraternity. They indulge her although I am sure she is capable of way more than they allow her to do.

Watching them together makes me hopeful that they understand the significance in cooking and eating together.

These habits of family dinners have given my kids continuity and stability. I have no doubt this tradition will remain with them when they become parents. Food is glue; it keeps my children in my kitchen and close to my heart.