When our five kids were young, we used to go to the beach for family vacation. In the early years macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly were the staple foods. But as the kids became teenagers, they expected bigger and better meals, and I wanted to model good nutrition. But at the same time, our week at the beach was my one week of vacation and I didn’t want to be a short order cook or a slave in the kitchen. I wanted to “veg” in the beach chair and read. I needed a vacation too!

My husband, John, and I decided we’d put two people in charge of dinner each night. The “cooks” chose the meal, did the shopping (we parents paid for it), preparation, and cleaning up for that day. Breakfast and lunch tended to be casual—fix your own cereal or sandwich. However, dinner was a celebration. Early on, spaghetti or burgers were likely choices, but as the children got older the meals became fancier. When our kids began to get married we continued this tradition. Chris and Christy became famous for homemade crab cakes, whereas Libby and Mac grilled tenderloin. John and Alysia were known for fancy cheese appetizers.

Today all five of our kids are married and we have 13 grandchildren. Now we gather at a family farm. But we still have the great meals! The couples often plan their dinner weeks ahead, poring over the latest magazines in search of new recipes. They do the shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Everyone looks forward to a quiet adult meal around a beautifully set table after the little kids are put to bed.

So many blessings have come from this practice. Young siblings learned how to get along over a project and sometimes they were actually sweet to each other. Teenagers began to appreciate the work of a mom just a little bit more. And couples or adult kids had fun pairing up with others and in the process deeper friendships were formed. Everyone learned how to pitch in and serve one another, how to appreciate and compliment the cooks, and how mealtimes can become a special celebration fostering rich communication.

You don’t have to leave home to declare a cook-off week. You can do it at home. In fact, it’s a great way to close out the summer or celebrate the first week of school!

And guess what—you’ll get a vacation too!