Recipe for fatherhood: For some dads, cooking with their kids is part of a balanced diet

June 11, 2013|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Melissa Gibson watches 6-year-old son Madoc sprinkle wood chips on the coals to grill meat and vegetables at the family's Halfway home. Madoc's dad, Heath, said Madoc likes to cook skirt steaks on the grill.
Photo by Chris Copley

Making food can be as ordinary as peeling potatoes or as extrordinary as creating a delicious sauce for the perfect french fry.

Being a father is a bit like that. Sometimes being a parent is a delight, and sometimes it’s a chore.

But, like eating three meals a day, being a father is a day-in, day-out responsibility. It’s also an opportunity for personal happiness.

Two local fathers, Karl Lehtola of Boonsboro aand Heath Gibson of Halfway, talked recently about being a dad in a particular setting: Cooking with kids. But their thoughts expanded beyond the kitchen, to the backyard, the music studio, the river and the woods.

And, most importantly, the two men talked about how their kids touch their hearts.

1. Cook with your children.

Gibson, a union electrician in Washington, D.C., gets home from work at about 4 p.m. and sometimes grills dinner for his family. He picked up grilling from his father.


“He was exclusively the griller in the house. Pork chops, chicken, steaks. He was definitely a steak man,” Gibson said. “I do mostly chicken and beef. I like to marinade chicken, usually overnight, then just throw it on the grill. We do corn. Sweet peppers and onions. Gives them that nice smoky flavor.”

Gibson has two children: a daughter, Mesza, 9, and a son, Madoc, 6. Madoc likes to grill with his father.

“It’s skirt steaks we’ve been cooking of late,” Gibson said. “It’s (Madoc’s) favorite thing to cook on the grill.”

Lehtola, 49, has four children: Maggie, 15; Jacob, 13; Katie, 11; and Ben, 8. Lehtola cooks regularly for the family on weekends, to give his wife, Kathy, a break. Often, Lehtola uses his gas grill or electric smoker. And he likes to involve his children.

2. Make time to be with your child.

Lehtola said day-in, day-out contact is important.

“It’s about sharing in the everyday stuff. That’s important. The ordinary, everyday texture of life. Not just celebrating the big birthdays,” he said. “My wife calls that ‘pouring in.’ You need to pour into those children every day.”

Lehtola said one way he does that is to set aside time to regularly do something with each child individually —fishing, kayaking, even just going out to breakfast.

“One thing I’ve done for several years now is make sure they each have private time (with me). Whether it’s coming (to a restaurant) to breakfast or going out early on the water,” he said. 

3. Limit distractions.

“We’re also very big on sitting at the table and eating together,” Lehtola said. “So when my work schedule is long, it’s not uncommon to have dinner at 7:30, quarter to 8 (p.m.). but we’re all going to sit at the table and have dinner as a family.”

Lehtola said he grew up watching TV with his dad, and that was normal. But he realized something when his father and mother died about 10 weeks apart in 2006.

“I wished that I’d done a lot more with my dad,” Lehtola said. “So every single minute I have to spare, I’m going to spend it with my kids. My work demands a lot of me. I put in a lot of hours every week. And after that, it’s about my family.”

One way Lehtola spends more active time with family is to avoid TV.

“One of the choices Kathy and I made early on was to get rid of our television,” he said. “We’ve been without TV for 15 years. I haven’t missed it one bit. Anything I want to see is on the Internet.”

4. Encourage kids to try new things.

Children grow and change. Fathers help their kids by encouraging that. Like, trying new foods. Gibson said Mesza is adventurous at the dinner table.

“Trying new foods — that’s a day-to-day thing here,” he said. “Mesza will surprise me. She’ll try just about anything. I’ll say, ‘Take a bite. You don’t like it, don’t eat it.’ She’ll try it. She was the only 6-year-old I know who wanted to try sushi.”

Gibson tries to model this himself, like learning to do home repair work.

“That’s something I’ve picked up from my father,” he said. “He’s a jack of all trades. So when we bought this old house, I was like, ‘Alright, here I go. I’m going to start learning some stuff.’”

Lehtola said his oldest daughter is starting to chart her own course. Lehtola and Kathy homeschool their children. Maggie, the oldest, is learning new skills in the kitchen.

“My daughter is into baking. She makes spoonbread. It’s almost like a pudding,” he said. “Life is really good with a piece of spoonbread and hot coffee in the morning.”

5. Praise the good in your kids.

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