Want to maximize visitation without breaking the bank? Here’s my divorced dad secret weapon: Stay home and cook for your kids. If they’re old enough, cook with them.
If you’re like most divorced dads, you’ve got visitation rights with your kids, so you want your time with them to be special. In fact, you want your time with them to be memorable and awesome and SO much better than when they’re with their mom. So you take them out to eat, you go see a movie, maybe cave and buy some toys, right? The time you spend preparing a meal together will be memorable if you use it effectively.
Good Stuff Happens While You Cook For Your Kids
Chances are your “divorced dad’s” pad isn’t that big. This is actually good news for our purposes, as it reduces the number of places your kids can go to distract themselves while you make cook for your kids. Have an open kitchen? Talk to your kids in the “dining room”. Bar stools at the counter, have them hang out and tell you about their day. If they’re old enough, put them to work! There are no child labor laws when it comes to home making, and you can happily remind them of this fact if they complain about having to peel carrots. All the while, just talk with them, show an interest in what’s going on with them. It may take a few tries before they get into it, but keep at it. Make it clear that you’re not going anywhere, and they have your full attention.
If they’re old enough, put them to work! There are no child labor laws when it comes to homemaking, and you can happily remind them of this fact if they complain about having to peel carrots. All the while, just talk with them, show an interest in what’s going on with them. It may take a few tries before they get into it, but keep at it. Make it clear that you’re not going anywhere, and they have your full attention.
All the while, just talk with them, show an interest in what’s going on with them. It may take a few tries before they get into it, but keep at it. Make it clear that you’re not going anywhere, and they have your full attention.
Kids Can Talk Freely At Home
Now sure, all of you divorced dads could talk with them at a restaurant, especially a nice one that doesn’t have music blasting away. You could have a limited range of conversational topics to choose from, and have a very nice time. But at your place, with just you and your kids, you can talk about anything. The walls can come down a lot easier at home than they can in public, and far less embarrassingly if things don’t go well, because sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they’ll go really, really bad. But that’s the point. The point is to give them a place where they can yell at you if they need to, or cry, or just talk. Those things don’t happen as easily at a restaurant as they do at home, because home is
The point is to give them a place where they can yell at you if they need to, or cry, or just talk. Those things don’t happen as easily at a restaurant as they do at home, because home is safe.
By spending time at home, you’re also sending a message to your kids that you don’t want anything or anyone between you and them. Kids pick up on behavior a lot more than we give them credit for, and always going to restaurants and movies and public stuff tells them that private stuff is not up for discussion. I can say from experience, this is not a good thing for a kid to learn from their dad.
Cooking For Your Kids is a Shared Experience
In addition to providing a safe place to talk, cooking at home with your kids can be a shared experience. Put them to work. I’m not kidding around about this! A six year old can shred cheese man, stop letting your kids sit around like deadbeats! Speaking of cheese, a great meal for little kids is english muffin pizzas (recipe below). Have them make their own. They freaking love putting their own toppings on. It’ll be a great time for them, and no matter how terrible you may think the food was, they’re gonna go back to their mom demanding to make them again. Now using your own judgement, you can decide if you feel comfortable giving sharp utensils to your child, but generally about eight is a good age to start them on the simple stuff. Teach them to be safe, be right there the whole time and show them they can do the grown up stuff. They’ll love you for it.
Cooking Is An Act of Love and Respect
The act of cooking for your family is at its root an act of love and respect. To take raw ingredients and turn them into a meal that you invested time and thought in, is not something to be taken lightly. Getting your kids involved in that process, even as
Getting your kids involved in that process, even as good company, is also a loving and respectful act. They will remember those meals fondly in the years to come. The kitchen sees the best of us, and the worst. (Divorced dads have plenty of both.) It is the center of any home, whether you use it or not, so use it.
Now that you’re a divorced dad, use your kitchen to form memories, and get to know your kids in a way that may be unfamiliar. It will not be easy, it will get messy, but it is worth doing. For you, for your kids, and most of all, for the people they will grow up to be. Now dust off those pans and get to work.
English Muffin Pizzas
- One pack english muffins (regular is fine, but sourdough is awesome)
- One jar spaghetti sauce (whatever you like is fine, just stay away from chunky varieties)
- Cheese (shred your own for best results, but pre-shredded is okay)
- Toppings (this can range from pepperoni, to pineapple, to bbq chicken, just make sure any meats are pre-cooked)
- Large sheet pan
The best way to go about fixing these with your kids is to set up an assembly line in your kitchen. Start with lightly toasted english muffins, then sauce, then cheese, then toppings. Let each kid take their turn putting sauce and toppings on, then move the finished pizzas to the sheet pan. Keep an eye on sauce levels, as too much will create a layer the cheese will just slide right off of. You could go all out and get mozzarella and really good pepperoni, but the truth is it works just as well with any kind of cheese and stuff your kids like.
Once everything is made, stick the pan in the oven on 375°F 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is well-melted (which ever comes first) before removing.
Make sure you let the pizzas cool down a bit before cutting them, or your cheese is gonna slide. Usually two pizzas is a good portion per child, but some kids are hungrier than others, so allow for extras (maybe make some plain cheese ones in case of seconds) and make sure you remember who made which ones, because your kids definitely will. Cut in half or in fours and serve.
This meal is a great way to spend time with your kids, to get them excited about dinner, and impart some lessons at the same time.
You can show them the importance of organization in the kitchen with the assembly line, the importance of hand washing when cooking, cleaning up after the preparation is done, and how to follow steps in a recipe. These are subtle lessons for young kids, but they learn through doing, which is why this dinner is so cool.
The most important things you will show them though, are that you can cook for your kids, and that you want to do stuff with them.
Those are the biggest things your kids will learn from you , and they will always remember.
- Several years ago, I attended a wedding that set the stage for blended family chaos. The bride’s parents had divorced when “Holly” was in elementary school. Her mother remarried shortly thereafter, and the stepfather, “Tim,” was instrumental in Holly’s life. So important that, when it was time to plan the…