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Drama-Free Days

Plan a day of drama-free bonding with your tween daughter.

Cook Together

Drama Free Day #3: Cook Up Some Bonding Time

LET'S: Cook Together
Despite all the snorting and the head-tossing (what are they -- horses?) tweens and teens actually want to help, and helping can, in turn, help increase their self esteem. It feels good to feel needed -- even if your daughter would never deign to admit it. But there are other reasons to try cooking together: it offers your teen a precious opportunity to be self-determining (she'll decide what she wants to cook and eat) but with low stakes (it's brownies, not eyebrow piercing); she gets to foster her own health-consciousness, which may be increasingly important to her; she'll get to boss you around for a day (consent to play sous-chef); and you'll get to shop together, but only for food (i.e. no arguments about bare midriffs or $200 shoes). Plus, cooking -- with all the companionable, side-by-side business of chopping or sautéing -- makes for great conversation: In the absence of pressure and eye contact, your daughter may open up way more than she would if you were having a planned heart-to-heart. And, at the end of it all, you'll have the bonus of food to put on the table, along with the pride that you made it -- together.

PREP:
Plan your cooking date far enough in advance that your daughter has time to think about what she'd like to make. She might have a favorite dish or recipe in mind -- or you might want to check a book or two out of the library. Teens Cook (Ten Speed Press), by teens Megan and Jill Carle (with their mom Judi) is a great starting place: it's super teen-friendly (chatty, enthusiastic, and wry), offers plenty of introduction to nutrition, cooking skills, and terminology, and is, above all, loaded with fun, delicious recipes for everything from decadently comforting ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls to sophisticated and nutritious veggie maki rolls. The teens' follow-up book, Teens Cook Dessert, is fun for sweet tooths (sweet teeth?) or you could head in the other direction with the more health-centered Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs (Bloomsbury) by Rozanne Gold. If you can possibly help it, try not to direct her too much or offer too many opinions, since you want to show her that you have faith in her ideas (plus, you might as well seize the opportunity to avoid conflict).

DO:
Begin with a trip to the supermarket, and make it as much fun as your budget dictates. Buying her an impromptu smoothie or decaf latte is not bribery exactly -- but she might remember it the next time you invite her along on a grocery trip. Bring along the recipe, of course, so you get the ingredients you need -- but you might also let her pick out a fruit she's never tasted before or decide to add a salad to the menu. This might be a nice opportunity to share your own knowledge about healthy food choices and nutrition, if that sharing feels welcome (it may not).

When you get home, put on a Pandora music station (type in the name of an artist you both like, and Pandora will pick out some mutually agreeable songs), ask her what you can do to help, and then get to work. If there's down time -- while something bakes in the oven, say -- share a pot of tea at the kitchen table and pick out a recipe for next time.

EXPAND:
If it's a stretch for your daughter to spend time without her friends, try compromising: keep the cooking to yourselves, but allow her to invite a friend for dinner or dessert so she can show off her accomplishments. And remember that it's more about the journey than the destination. If things don't go as planned? You can always order a pizza.

Catherine Newman lives with her husband and two kids in Massachusetts. She is the author of Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family.
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CeReality: 5 Families, 5 Stories, 1 Critical Meal

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