Mother and son enjoying lunch outside.
Credit: Emily Berger
The Way We Eat

A Michigan Mom on How Teaching Her Son to Cook Brought Them Closer Together

published Jun 13, 2021
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Name: Jenell Williams
Location: Madison Heights, MI
Number of people who eat together in your home: 2; Jenell and her 12-year-old son, Kaden
Avoidances: We try not to have a lot of fried foods or candy in our household.

In what was perhaps the ultimate pandemic parenting feat, Jenell, a community education facilitator in Michigan, taught her 12-year-old son how to cook. (With some help from YouTube, Netflix, and friends that are professional chefs, too). After lots of Gordon Ramsay videos and Nailed It! episodes, Kaden, an admittedly picky eater, is now confident enough to make his favorite dishes all by himself.

With Kaden back at school and Jenell easing back into work, it’s a development that the pair hopes will stick long into the future. Beyond the practical lessons, though, Jenell and Kaden have perfected the art of making cooking at home together fun. We caught up with Jenell to talk all things grocery shopping for a pre-teen (it’s a lot), her favorite food memory from the past year, and all the ways that cooking together helped the duo grow even closer.

Credit: Emily Berger

First of all — how are you doing after this year?
It was a difficult year because we lost a lot of loved ones. A lot of family and friends. But my gosh, we’ve been able to spend a lot more one-on-one time with each other and I feel like I got to know my son more. He also learned from my experiences. It’s been an awesome time to spend together.

What has it been like spending so much time together?
With home schooling, he started out doing all of his assignments. I’d tell him to let me know if he needed help. I allowed him to go back to in-person school at the end of the year. It was time — being an only child, he really needed that socialization aspect. Kaden is 12 so he’s pretty self-sufficient. But it’s this pivotal age of going through puberty and figuring things out. He’s only seen one friend the entire year — the rest have been cousins. It’s been a challenge at home.

Credit: Emily Berger

Have you had to be home the whole time too?
I’m mostly working from home, which has been a blessing, but we have started going back a few days a week.

Are there certain things you’ve been eating on repeat right now?
For breakfast and lunch we’ll have things like boiled eggs, Canadian bacon, sausage, or turkey bacon. Bagels … fruit! I’ll usually have yogurt. Kaden loved yogurt at one point — it was his go-to — but now he doesn’t. I’ll have smoothies sometimes too, which he’ll partake in every now and then, but for the most part they’re my thing.

For lunch, I’ve been making lots of smoked turkey and ham sandwiches, sometimes grilled cheese. Kaden will eat corn dogs, or he’ll make homemade pizzas. We’ll buy the dough and sauce and cheese and pepperoni.

Credit: Emily Berger

Has the way you cook dinner changed at all?
I’ll try to meal prep whatever we’re going to have for the week, but it depends on what mood I’m in. Typically on Sundays, I cook two meals that I try to stretch for a few days. This past Sunday I made cubed steak with wild rice and spinach. It lasted us until Tuesday and then I made a pot of chili, which is something that can also stretch. Tonight I’m going to make tilapia with scalloped potatoes and spinach.

Does Kaden cook with you?
I love to cook and I love to eat. Kaden loves to cook too. There have been times when he cooks dinner! He loves making steak and he’s also really good at cooking spaghetti.

That’s so awesome. How did he learn?
Kaden started watching cooking shows on Youtube and Netflix — things like Nailed It! and Gordon Ramsay. He loves it and will turn them off and say, “Mom, we should make this.” We have been creative with recipes; we’ll go on Pinterest, we’ll get cookbooks. It’s been really fun.

I have a couple friends who are chefs. I sent them a picture of one of his creations and one of them in particular was like, it’s time to cook with my buddy. She came over to the house and they cooked together — she just gave him verbal instructions. He made steak, cilantro rice, and broccoli all by himself. Since then, we’ve been cooking a lot together.

Credit: Emily Berger

What’s the best thing you’ve made together recently?
The thing is, he knows how to cook what he likes. I try to encourage him to try things. He used to love when I made gumbo, and now he cannot stand it. He also hates tomatoes, but will eat spaghetti. He doesn’t like cheese on his hamburgers but he’ll eat string cheese. He’s really picky right now — he’s in this phase, a growing pre-teen. He eats so much, though, oh my gosh. My grocery bill is crazy right now.

Oh I bet!
I try to do a lot of bulk shopping so I don’t have to go out as much. Because Kaden has been home so much, I have to have a lot of stuff in the house. I always had after-school snacks, but now I need stuff for all the time. Sam’s Club is literally across the street from our house, so we can walk there. Meijer is also nearby in walking distance. We also shop at Kroger.

Credit: Emily Berger

What do you buy most often?
Kaden goes through so much bottled water. I’m always getting tons of cases (if I drive there). He also drinks tons of milk, and eats so many eggs. He loves Cinnamon Toast Crunch — all the time, not just for breakfast. That’s his go-to. Those things are always on our list. For me, I’m a big tea person. I love Bigelow mint and chamomile. I’m always running out for tea and honey. I also love fruit, so my list also has apples, oranges, and bananas on it.

What’s your favorite food memory from the past year?
New Year’s Eve was my favorite. We did surf and turf and made steak and shrimp. We got dressed up and had sort of a restaurant vibe. We drank out of wine glasses. It was great.

What’s something that you learned about Kaden while cooking?
I learned that he is very patient and he’s a really good cook. Because he’s patient, he will take his time. He doesn’t try to rush. He learned that from cooking — that good things are worth waiting for.

Credit: Emily Berger

Thanks so much for talking with us, Jenell! Follow her on Instagram.

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you, about how they feed themselves and their families. We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.