It’s pet peeve time -- one of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear restaurants talk about their home cooking.

No, it’s only home cooking if you cook it in your home.

But a course in Mendota recently taught me that not everyone appreciates true home cooking. Many of them may not even cook.

The University of Illinois Extension recently offered Junior Chefs School in Mendota with more scheduled in the area. The students made some pretty strange faces as they dug into that can of pumpkin puree. Others were fine until they took a whiff of pumpkin pie spice.

The week-long course covers a lot of topics all centered on “My Plate,” the United States Department of Agriculture recommendations for healthy eating.

The kids, some barely able to see over the top of the table, were mixing, measuring and spilling their way through a recipe. They cracked eggs and flipped pancakes and could barely contain their excitement as they took their plates filled with their handmade pancakes to the table.

It made me wonder if you cook with your children? I remember trying to teach the kids to cook and I am just not a patient person. The spills, eggshells, the burned bits of food or the underdone parts, oh please. Just give it to me. Let me do it.

Now I have a granddaughter who brags about how fast her mom can pull macaroni and cheese out of the microwave and get it on the table. Oh dear. What have I done?

Worse are the dishes. It’s bad enough when I’m scratch cooking pasta and sauce or fried chicken or some other messy dish. Kids seem to make an even bigger mess. I swear they would use every single spoon, fork, bowl and cup.

Forget teaching a kid to cook, how about teaching a kid to clean up?

Throwing something on the table -- anything for that matter -- can be a challenge and in the summer, there are many children struggling to get enough to eat. Not just a lack of money, but also time. Adults are busy, they’re working and kids are left to fend for themselves.

If you have some patience, kids can wield knives (not in my house, please), crack eggs ( again, not in my house, please) and grill or griddle a simple meal for themselves. I’ve been told they can even clean up.

I could see the pride these kids took in their food. They truly enjoyed the experience of eating their own pancakes, even if it did have pumpkin in it. Earlier in the week the kids made fruit salsa or an egg-based dish.

That was a huge hit and some of the kids were looking forward to making it at home for their families. Oh, those brave families.

But, really, that’s what home cooking is all about. Not some plate that comes from someone else’s professional kitchen.

Home cooking is the lumpy or squiggly pancakes decorating a plate. Home cooking is more than food: it’s something the cook wants to share with you.

Try to slow down one day this week. Try to turn over the kitchen to the kids. Smile as you enjoy the fruits of their labor and know your kids are one step closer to being independent. Even when the power goes out and the microwave won’t work.

And, if you don’t already own one, you might want to invest in a dishwasher.

Tamara Abbey can be reached at (815) 539-5200 or mendota@newstrib.com. Follow her on Twitter @ NT_Mendota

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