Stroke of genius: A recipe for chores and cooperation

Recipe for Chores

I am neither a parenting expert nor a housekeeping expert, but occasionally I have a really good idea, and it works. Here’s the latest.

The most annoying question my kids ask me every day when I pick them up from school is: “What’s for after-school snack?” I don’t know what’s for after school snack! It’s frustrating that they expect me to have some kind of smorgasbord planned for their arrival when, honestly, they should be satisfied that I’m fully dressed when I pick them up. I got them breakfast before school. I make them dinner almost every night. Anyway, I try. I really do, but I usually don’t have anything spectacular for them to eat when they get home from school.

Today, after the kids were off to school, I walked from room to room in the house. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of work required to get everything tidy again. How can three smallish people make such big messes and so quickly? How?! I dreaded cleaning it all up, and felt like I shouldn’t have to. I didn’t make the messes. So I decided that instead of spending my energy cleaning up after them, I’d rather channel my energy into a plan to get them to clean up after themselves.

My idea: A treat. They love a home-baked snack. They also love to cook with me, but I don’t do it with them as often as I should, or even as often as I’d like to. So I decided to wrap all those “rewards” into one. I realize that this is not a good daily chore plan, but when you’re feeling overwhelmed about all that has to be done and you need to rally the troops to really chip in and help, this worked like a charm.

The plan:

I found a yummy recipe that had approximately as many ingredients as chores I wanted them to do. I cut and pasted the ingredients list into a Word document, enlarged the font and line spacing, then printed it out.


Then I turned the paper over and wrote down the tasks I wanted done around the house.

chores list

Then I cut the papers into strips, with the ingredient on one side and the chore on the other,


And rolled them up and put them into a bowl.


(This is how helpful my cat was during this process.)


I put the chore bowl on the table with some fruit for after-school snack and then waited for the kids to come home.

CAM00484I showed them the recipe and explained that they needed to do the chores to earn the ingredients. When everyone had earned all the ingredients, we would make the cake together.

It worked. They jumped right in and divided the papers among them.

CAM00489See? Magic. At one point, Clark said, “When there’s a really good reward, it almost makes the chores fun.” It’s like he knew I needed a slogan for my blog post or something. πŸ˜‰


They finished their work quickly and without complaining. They each had ownership for their own ingredients and, once earned, could measure them out and add them to the recipe when called for.


We made the cake, ate it, and they were happy and pleasant. There was still a little bit of clean-up to be done, but it was way more manageable than my house was earlier, and now I can walk from room to room in my house and smile at the improvement.


How about you? In a moment of “crisis,” have you ever had a stroke of parental genius that actually worked? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Sometimes we all just need a few new tricks to try.


15 thoughts on “Stroke of genius: A recipe for chores and cooperation

  1. You are a genius!!! This is fantastic! My children love to help cook and I love how you divided everything. I can’t wait to try it out! Yes, there are an excessive amount of exclamation points.

  2. I like this idea! In fact, I think I’ll try it for Saturday chores tomorrow and see how it goes.
    My mom used to make a tape-recorded scavenger hunt type chore system where we’d turn on the tape long enough to hear a chore, turn it off and go do it, then come back and turn on the tape to hear either another chore, or the hiding place of a special treat, etc. etc. It was random and kept us on our toes, but also kept us excited and working fast! It was one of my favorite ways of doing chores.
    I have another trick that works for younger children, I wrote about it on my blog a while ago at –however, it’s been a while since we’ve done it because, as with your idea, it’s only good as a once-in-a-while thing.
    As with any reward system, the novelty often wears off and the kids start thinking that either it’s not worth the effort, or that they shouldn’t have to help at all unless they get something out of it. I have yet to figure out something that works consistently, but it’s good to have a few of these kinds of ideas up your sleeve and rotate them for when you’re feeling especially overwhelmed.

  3. Stephanie, I agree, this is genius! May I use your idea in our Primary newsletter? With the theme this year FAMILIES ARE FOREVER, I try to include family events and FHE ideas. This is great. I would give credit of course, but don’t plan to use pictures at this time due to space. Please email me.
    Thank you, ~Shari

  4. I am definitely going to try this! My thoughts and processes have been going along the same lines as I have been trying to figure out something that works consistently for my children to get chores, homework, and musical instruments practiced all done between the time of getting home from school and dinner. My current plan is a race the clock kind of plan. I give them a list when they get home that has detailed everything (chores, homework, practicing) and say “if you are done by 5 you get a dollar”. I explained to them that this applied to our “work week” M-F and that they could earn up to 20$ each month (they were very excited and my budget was a little freaked out at the revelation of this tidbit.) My math beleaguered 9 yr old quickly summed up that they could earn 240$ a year (then my budget really freaked out!) But it has been working beautifully! I have had some reservations about tying all of these things to money, but it is hard to worry too much when it is working so well. We also had a lesson on obedience and sacrifice for Happy Family Night that seemed to go well. I love this fun idea for a yummy treat and chores combo! I am going to try it out (maybe on a saturday.) You are a brilliant genius of a woman and I love your posts! Thank you!

  5. I love this! We have spent the last few weeks watching our previous chore system wane (like everything else, it worked great for a few months, now they are tired of doing it and I am tired of reinforcing it), so we are all ready for a fun change. While my kids will be thrilled with making treats together, I wonder if there’s other ways to use this idea? In place of ingredients it could be words or letters that can be put together like a riddle and then we could have the “reward” be any number of things- a movie or game night, swimming, inviting friends for dinner, earning money…I am seriously loving the potential here. Yay, thank you!

  6. No kidding that this is a stroke of genius! I will be doing this if I can get my act together. All of our snow days have left my house an absolute disaster area.

  7. I love a stroke of genius-makes me feel like I actually know what I’m doing as a parent, although usually I think the credit really belongs with Heavenly Father and not me. My stroke of genius today? Giving my baby a ping pong ball to play with, she’s been in love with it all day.

  8. I think that you are a genius! What a great idea and reward, a treat and a clean house! I wonder if it is too late today to give this a go? Hmmm…

  9. I really love your blog. I want to be your friend πŸ™‚ We have a Clark too.
    So, I’ve done something similar with chores, just a variation if you need to mix things up. We make a batch of cookie dough, and then put one pan of cookies in the oven to bake for 8-10 minutes. During those 8-10 minutes, they have to do one of their jobs–clean the bathroom, clean their room, etc. Then we all meet down by the oven after to pull the cookies out when the timer goes off. Repeat with several batches. At the end, they all get a couple of warm cookies, and I get a clean house.
    Thanks for blogging, you are an inspiration.

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