How I Get my Kids to Make Dinner Every Week (+10 dinners your middle schooler can make)

This past school year we started giving our daughters (5th and 7th grade, at the time) a weekly allowance and decided to include “cooking dinner” as one of their chores. They already helped with things like emptying the dishwasher and putting away laundry, and I really didn’t want to make those basic requirements paying jobs. Those tasks are simply part of their contribution to the family (and getting to live here)!

So, when our girls started asking for a paid allowance, we knew we had to come up with some chores that were above and beyond the norm. That’s when we decided to reinstate dinner duty (among other things), except with a little more consistency this time around. We dabbled in having them cook dinner a few years before (3rd/4th grade time frame), but now they’re old enough to really handle the task almost all on their own. Check out these Easy Dinner Ideas too!

10 Dinners Your Middle Schooler Can Cook For You This Summer on 100 Days of Real Food
My daughter making Slow Cooker Beef Bourguignon (when she was 10 / in 5th grade)

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Cooking Dinner as Part of an Allowance

Once a week each daughter, on her assigned night without conflicting sports or activities, picks a recipe and makes it from start to finish. The week before they have to tell me what they want to make (my rule is that it has to be a “complete” meal, not just burgers or a main dish), and I’ll provide the groceries. The other daughter is then on dinner clean up duty that particular evening…also part of their allowance (and my brilliant plan to give my husband and me a break, LOL)!

I think it’s so important to teach kids life skills, such as cooking, so it’s not such a shock to them when they grow up and move out! And also so they know how to take care of themselves and stay healthy. Plus, I love how kids are often not as scared of failure as some adults, so they’ll sometimes be rather ambitious with their recipe choices.

So far my kids have chosen to make everything from miso soup to veal chops (things I don’t even cook myself!) to more regular standards such as quiche and lasagna. I’m always super impressed when they tell me they want to make something challenging and do my best to keep a straight face as not to discourage them!

So far the recipe “fails” have been few and far between, which in my opinion, is a lesson in and of itself. I often learn just as much from failures as successes so it’s all in good fun!

Never Too Late To Start!

With kids off from school for the summer, I think this is a great time to give your middle (or high) schooler some serious empowerment and start having them make dinners for your family. If they’re new to the kitchen they’ll likely need some guidance in the beginning, but just think where this could take you by the end of summer! :)

Online Cooking Class

Our friends over at Kitchen Stewardship created an online video eCourse that teaches kids of all ages to be confident in the kitchen. Created by a former teacher and mom of four, the eCourse offers a curriculum that can be done at any time (hello summer or, even winter break!) at their own pace. They’ll learn 30 basic cooking skills, build self-esteem and (bonus!!) be able to help out in the kitchen! Take a look at their program, which we are fans of and highly recommend.

You never know what surprises might be in store with someone else in charge of dinner. To get you off on the right foot, here are 10 easy dinners kids can make.

10 Easy Dinners Kids Can Make

  1. Easy Tamale Pie
    photo of Easy Tamale Pie - dinners kids can make
  2. Weeknight Chicken Curry Bowls
    photo of Weeknight Chicken Curry Bowls - dinners kids can make
  3. Slow Cooker Green Salsa Chicken
    photo of Slow Cooker Green Salsa Chicken - dinners kids can make
  4. Ricotta and Kale Quiche
    photo of Ricotta and Kale Quiche - dinners kids can make
  5. Greek Chicken Lemonato
    photo of Greek Chicken Lemonato - dinners kids can make
  6. Shortcut Chicken Pot Pie
    photo of Shortcut Chicken Pot Pie for Tonight - dinners kids can make
  7. Pesto Salmon Sheet Pan Dinner
    photo of Pesto Salmon Sheet Pan Dinner - dinners kids can make
  8. Semi-Homemade Spaghetti Sauce (+ a salad)
    photo of Bowl of Semi-Homemade Spaghetti Sauce served over pasta topped with herbs and Parmesan cheese - dinners kids can make
  9. Swedish Meatballs
    photo of Swedish Meatballs - dinners kids can make
  10. Fish and Potato Chowder
    photo of Fish and Potato Chowder - One Pot Meal! - dinners kids can make

Does your middle (or high) schooler already cook dinner for you and have some go-to favorite recipes? If so, please share in the comments! I’d love to hear. :)

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13 thoughts on “How I Get my Kids to Make Dinner Every Week (+10 dinners your middle schooler can make)”

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  1. Since my son was 9-years-old, he has been responsible for making one meal a week during the summer and dinner a couple of times a month during the school year. I love how adventurous his recipe choices are. He is now 13. Last month, he made Beef Wellington with a green peppercorn sauce, herbed potatoes, and a rainbow Swiss chard salad with pomegranate seeds and homemade dressing. He was in the kitchen for hours. It was all delicious. He loves to cook food from different cultures using the “Eat Your Way Around the World” cookbook. Learning to cook will serve him well throughout his life. I’ll have to show him these recipes.

  2. My kids are young adults now. They were always required to participate n the “family economy” of work required to keep the household going. In middle school, both started doing their own laundry and making their own school lunch. Although I typically made suppers, they had dishes they loved to make. One child took over the role of crepe-maker. The other was our go-to Baker. She still gives baked goods as gifts to her friends on special occasions. And both are competent cooks and have their own comfortable homes where they know how to take care of most everyday things.

  3. Love getting the kids to help in the kitchen! This summer our 12 year old son is cooking on Wednesdays, learning to make Hawaiian chili (his choice). We’re one week in, he needed a lot of guidance, but it went well. No kidney beans, though–“I don’t like them, and if I’m cooking, I don’t have to add them!”

  4. I love this idea! My kiddos are a little young, but I will definitely file this away. My two oldest boys (7 and 4) love to help out in their Kitchen. Hoping they will be a great cook like their dad!

  5. My son’s first meal was cereal with milk for breakfast, then graduated to noodle soup fot lunch, and then fish tacos for dinner. He is now practicing for a bbq competition. I get a break from cooking the protein and he is excited to be helping. I love the idea of a set day, suggesting that to him today and hoping for entire meals once a week going forward. Thanks for posting!

  6. Looking for kid cooking ideas

    I don’t think a lot of these look very easy (or middle schooler friendly). I’m glad it works for your family. What about pizza, grilled cheese and tomato soup, chili, chicken caesar salad, waffles and fruit, quesadillas in the oven or macaroni and cheese?

  7. So many times I work hard and get finished with the new recipe I’m working on only to realize I am no where near a “complete” meal. I need your guidance! Haha I love that you are helping your girls be ready for the real world. They are going to have some lucky college roommates.

  8. LOVE! I am a high school culinary arts teacher – I’m going to share this on our Instagram page. Would love for more parents to support their kids in the kitchen! They are so capable! And what a big help to Mom and Dad!

  9. Fantastic idea Lisa! This is also a great way to ensure the kids get to pick dishes they like for dinner vs trying to plan meals to make everyone happy all week – and more likely to try / eat new things if they made it themselves!

  10. I think this is a great idea! But just wondering how much you pay them? Or a range? I have 4 kids so it can get pricey paying allowances – with three in high school and one middle-schooler – it might be a bit different… just wondering..

    1. I started my kids on allowance in elementary school. At that time, they were bringing home Scholastic book order forms every month, and saying they really wanted this book, and this book, and that book… It was a struggle every month. So – I started giving them $15/month, and THEY had to pay for any books they wanted. It was the same amount I’d been paying anyway, but without the monthly struggle (and they soon realized that getting those books out of the library would leave them with more spending money). I didn’t use allowance as a pay-for-work thing, I used it to gradually offload more and more of their spending from my wallet to theirs. By high-school, they got more, and were buying most of their own clothes (I bought winter jackets, boots…). It was an opportunity for them to learn money-management.