Some experts think the way to a harmonious Mother’s Day may just be to get in the kitchen.
Though this may sound like an archaic dictum, it's a way to introduce parents to an essential ingredient for a happier dinner table: family bonding. So says Allison Carver, the owner of a Taste of Therapy and the author of Cooking Therapy: The Recipe for Improving Communication with your Children Through Cooking.
If you think therapy tastes like bad medicine, think again. Carver, a licensed professional counselor in Richmond, Va., found in her sessions that food goes far in healing many wounds.
“We would talk about food and family dinner, and I would bring food to sessions and we would eat together and they loved it,” says the mother of one. “I love to cook and love all things food, and Richmond has become a big foodie town. I thought, wouldn’t this be a good way to help my clients?”
Carver traded the traditional therapy couch for a stove in 2010 and folded her clients into a new method of therapeutic action. “I started teaching classes in the kitchen for specific problems, like couples therapy and family therapy, and it just took off.”
Getting kids in the kitchen is particularly effective in reconnecting them with their parents, says Carver. “They’re able to talk and laugh and see their parents in a whole different way,” she says. “It shakes up the dynamic a little bit, especially if the mom and kid are having trouble.”
The kitchen is neutral territory in which kids and parents can work together on a common goal, she says. As long as food doesn’t become its own battlefield. According to Carver, pizza upholds its role as the great equalizer, even among warring factions of a family. “Pizza is great universal recipe,” she says.
Buy or make a batch of pizza dough, then divide it into smaller portions for personal pizzas. Set various toppings on the kitchen table and let everyone go to town. Then, place all of the mini pizzas on a cookie sheet dusted with flour and bake them in a screaming-hot oven until crisp and bubbly (or see our pizza recipe below).
One of Carver’s most memorable family therapy sessions involved a “very checked-out and unhappy 15-year-old kid."
“I think he liked the cooking mostly because he didn’t have to talk to me that much, but it also allowed him to relax, and we found common ground," she says.
That kid ended up bonding with his folks through food, says Carver, though your mileage may vary. And you may find that cooking with your kids brings up unexpected opportunities for teaching.
For example, cooking is a subtle lesson in cooperation and a not-so-subtle lesson in following directions, as any novice baker can tell you. Beyond that, baking teaches younger kids how to add fractions as well as the very practical art of substitution.
“You only have three eggs and this calls for four, what else can you use?,” says Carver. “It teaches them adaptability and also empowerment. They have some ingredients and put some time into it and they come up a cake. How cool is that?”
Carver says the sooner you start working with your kids, the less likely it is you’ll end up with teenager who doesn’t care about what happens to food between the refrigerator and his mouth. But even if that happens, it's not the end of the world, Carver says. “Have hope — you can even entice a cranky teenager,” she says, laughing.
And if the first cooking lesson goes terribly awry? Start again — or even order takeout. It's crucial to remember, says Carver, that cooking is important, but it still isn’t serious stuff.
“This is a good way to unwind and eat together,” she says.
“Let’s make the fact that we have to eat something into something good we can
do as a family."
Here are 3 recipes the whole family can help make this Mother's Day:
Parents can slice the tomatoes and cucumbers, and let kids clip the scallion greens into bits with clean kitchen shears. Then let the kids combine the rest of the ingredients. Serves four.