When parents of young kids think about what it might be like to have teenagers, they probably think about words such as moodiness, conflict, attitude, eye-rolling and curfews. When I was a new mom, the thought of having a teenager someday was terrifying. My husband and I joked about the day our child would storm upstairs and, before slamming his bedroom door, scream, “How many times do I have to tell you, I’m a VEGETARIAN!!!”
Now I’m the mom of two teenagers, 19-year-old Solomon and 17-year-old Celia (who is, in fact, a vegetarian). As with most things, I now realize worrying was a waste of energy. Parenting teens, and spending time with them and their friends, is more fun than I ever could have imagined. And many of our best times happen while we’re cooking or dining together.
The most challenging part of having teenagers, aside from worrying when they’re driving long distances or out late at night, is finding opportunities to spend time with them. High school students are busy and out of the house a lot, whether socializing, playing sports, participating in a club or working after school. We rarely drive them anymore, so we don’t get much time to talk in the car.
When the kids are home, they usually prefer group chatting on social media, watching “Friends” on their laptops or unwinding or studying in their rooms with headphones on and doors closed. We no longer are the center of their world.
Thankfully, there is food. As our kids have gotten older, family dinners have become more essential to our relationships than ever. It is one of the few times we can predictably lure our teens out of their rooms – teens do, almost invariably, like to eat food, and lots of it. Most of our best family discussions happen while we’re lingering over a home-cooked meal.
Also, in addition to the eating, there is the cooking. While my husband is more likely to play Frisbee or watch sports with Celia and Solomon, the kids and I prefer bonding in the kitchen. When we can find the time to cook together, we turn on their favorite music and tackle a new recipe. We let our creativity flow, and they take pride in our creations.
The kids have learned if there is something they like to eat, we probably can figure out how to make it even better at home. When Celia was in a phase of dousing her vegetables with ranch dressing, we invented our own all-natural version. It was a total success – the recipe made it into my latest cookbook – and the bottles of chemical-heavy store-bought brands have disappeared from our fridge.
Even when our cooking experiments don’t go as well, we enjoy the process of developing recipes together. She also likes learning new skills, such as slicing with a sharp knife and cooking over fire.
Before Solomon went to college, we would invent power smoothie recipes. He got a huge kick out of adding random spices such as cardamom when my back was turned. I noticed our budding engineer liked to employ kitchen machines such as the waffle iron, the food processor and the blender, sometimes for unconventional purposes, so we incorporated those more often in our recipes.
Now that Solomon is in college, I am beyond excited when he texts or calls me to get cooking advice or recipes, which he does surprisingly often for a freshman with no kitchen. Recently he requested a recipe for an Asian peanut salad to make for a dinner at a friend’s house, and he texted me photos of a salad bursting with cucumbers, mangoes and his tangy lime dressing.
Sometimes, roles reverse and the kids teach me something new in the kitchen. Last year, Solomon taught me how to make the best crispy hash browns, which I had been unable to master, and bowled us over us with monster-size hash brown, egg and avocado sandwiches.
While we’re bonding over our creations, the kids are learning life skills such as how to plan meals, follow recipes and prepare food from scratch. And I’m learning important lessons such as letting go of control, opening my mind and not stressing about how much sodium is in Solomon’s yummy slow-cooker Buffalo chicken sandwiches.
Even though afternoons making chalk art on the driveway and hunting for pennies in the sandbox have given way to evenings of competing against each other in the trivia card game “Foodie Fight,” or watching “Modern Family,” my time with Celia and Solomon is just as delightful. To me, and I think to Solomon and Celia, there is no more delicious way to build our bonds than over food.