Ep 215: Eating Together, Being Together

Caroline Clauss-Elhers, co-author of Eating Together, Being Together, joins us to talk about how cooking and eating with our kids creates opportunities for deeper connection.

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Full show notes

For centuries, food has brought people together. Whether we’re preparing a holiday feast with the whole family or grabbing lunch with an old friend, there’s something about cooking and eating together that creates a connection between human beings. 

But sometimes we lose track of the value of sharing a meal–especially when it comes to daily family life. After a long day of work and school, it’s easy to throw a frozen pizza in the oven and sit your kids in front of the TV while you go upstairs for some much-needed peace and quiet.

Although it can be hard to find time for family dinner and even more difficult to muster up the energy to cook a meal, food can be a great way to connect with your kids. Cooking together provides opportunities to teach valuable life lessons, and sitting down for a meal can bring laughter, bonding, and essential communication. If you can find the time to cook and eat together, food might just bring your family closer than ever before.

To help us get the spices flowing and the conversation going, we’re talking to Caroline Clauss-Elhers, co-author of Eating Together, Being Together: Recipes, Activities and Advice From a Chef Dad and a Psychologist Mom. Caroline is an award-winning psychologist and professor at Long Island University, Brooklyn. She teamed up with her chef husband to write this book full of fun ways to incorporate food into family bonding!

In my conversation with Caroline, we’re discussing the important practical and philosophical lessons kids can learn from cooking.Creating delectable meals is a great way to bond with our teens, and provides a unique space to discuss fun and serious subjects.
How Cooking Can Be Educational

Cooking is more than just preparing tasty food–it also includes things like math, physics, and plant science! Preparing food together is a fun and productive way to teach kids about everything from fractions to fruit, says Caroline. Younger kids might be fascinated to learn about the composition of an egg, while older kids can try converting teaspoons to quarts. No matter how old your kid is, they’ll likely learn a thing or two if they step into the kitchen, Caroline says.

If we want our kids to learn life skills like leadership, perseverance, or patience, cooking is a great place to start, Caroline says. Making a meal is messy, and typically involves some trial and error. Before kids can produce the perfect omelet, they'll have to learn to remain resilient through pooly cracked eggs or burnt mushrooms!  If there’s multiple cooks in the kitchen, Caroline suggests letting kids be in charge of delegating duties. This lets them try out a little bit of leadership and critical decision-making, she says.

The grocery shopping process is another chance to get kids learning–this time about money! Caroline suggests comparing the prices and attributes of multiple brands and asking kids which they think is a better deal. At the end of the trip, kids can look over a receipt and see how each item, discount, or fee was combined to make a total payment amount. These lessons might seem minor, but can be formative for kids still learning about the value of both money and food, Caroline explains.

Cooking and eating as a family is more than just educational! Parents can also use food to bond with kids in all sorts of ways. In our interview, Caroline and I are discussing how food preparation and consumption can be a path to better communication with kids.

How Food Brings Family Together

In our interview, Caroline and I are discussing all the ways families can use food to bond. In Caroline’s family, for example, making apple cider is a common activity. She hops into the car with her husband and kids and they drive to the apple orchard before bringing the fruit home to make the cider and enjoy it together. 

Caroline explains that the car rides are often the highlight, because they give her family unstructured time to talk about their lives with one another. Although they could simply buy cider from the store, this from-scratch method is much more fun and creates opportunities for connection, says Caroline.

Sometimes, there’s a specific topic you want to bring up to your teen, but you aren’t sure of the right time and place. Caroline says cooking and eating together creates opportunities for heavier topics to come up organically. When your family is gathered in a comfortable environment doing something low-effort like eating or caramelizing onions, it often provides the chance to nudge your teen about their college applications or find out more about their friends at school.

You might be thinking to yourself, I don’t have time to cook! I’m too busy working or running kids from soccer practice to tutoring! In the episode, Caroline and I talk about different methods for busy parents to bond with kids over food. There are three meals and multiple snack occasions to capitalize on, she says, and there’s bound to be at least one opportunity in the day to cook or eat with kids. Even something small like cutting fruit together or making a sandwich can be a good opportunity to chat about your day.

But what do we do when we’re munching away on mashed potatoes and teens suddenly bring up a serious topic? In our interview, Caroline and I are discussing how we can listen and respond to kids who are struggling with everything from school to social anxiety.

Why Listening Goes a Long Way

When kids are coming to us with concerns about dating, drinking, or a bad grade, the conversation can get pretty tense. Parents tend to have opinions on these subjects, and sometimes when we’re listening, we just can’t wait to blurt out our own feelings about what teens should do. However, jumping in with a solution might do more harm than good, says Caroline. In the episode, she’s outlining a strategy for responding  to teens who are struggling–and listening without our own agenda is step one.

Instead of chiming in right away, Caroline suggests listening attentively and trying to understand how kids feel. And when we do offer our two cents, she recommends we validate teens feelings and opinions in the process. This can be tricky, Caroline explains, as sometimes teens are being irrational or unreasonable. But their feelings and your feelings can both be right, she says. Acknowledging the validity of both stances can be a good way to start breaking down the problem at hand in a practical way.

Caroline explains that simply having someone to talk to can be immensely valuable for teens. Studies show that having one trusted adult in their corner can do wonders for kids who are struggling with growing pains and trying to make sense of the world. In the episode, Caroline and I talk about how parents can guide teens through tough situations like social anxiety, the pandemic, and more.

In the Episode…

I had so much fun interviewing Caroline this week! On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about…
  • Why cooking helps kids let go of perfectionism
  • How we can help teens face their fears
  • Why teens suffer from increased brain fog
  • How cooking can be an outlet for teens’ frustrations
If you enjoyed this episode, you can find more great resources at eatingtogetherbeingtogether.com. Don’t forget to share and subscribe and we’ll see you next week!

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Ep 215: Eating Together, Being Together
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