21 Day Fix

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cooking with Your Kids

I want my kids to know how to cook and I don’t mean take something out of a box and put it on a stove, into a microwave or into oven.

Some of my earliest and favorite memories growing up involve being in the kitchen with my Mom. She didn’t let me help as much as I wanted, and for the most part dinner/meals were her domain, but we did a lot of baking together and I loved it and treasure those memories. By the time I was 9 or 10 years old I no longer had to consult the chocolate chip bag to prepare to make toll house cookies – the recipe was permanently affixed in my memory and to this day I can quote it to you (if you really wanted me to). I occasionally helped out with meatballs, spaghetti sauce, chili, meatloaf and a few other things as well and loved my time in the kitchen. In the end I think that over the years I’ve learned more from FoodTV and from cookbooks and cooking websites than I did at home but I learned a lot of important solid basics from Mom and want to make sure that my kids do the same.

To that end, my kids all seem to be budding chefs. Luckily my husband and I both like to cook and although our kitchen is small we believe it is important for kids to know how to find their way around in the kitchen. I’m often dismayed when I run into people who try to keep their kids out of the kitchen for various reasons. Mainly its because they don’t want their kids to get hurt (none of us do) or because they don’t want them to mess something up (we all mess things up) or they think they are too young (they’re probably not) or they think they "just don't have the time". When I hear excuses for keeping kids out of the kitchen I immediately think of a dear friend I grew up with, her Mother was a wonderful Italian cook – the food was always so good in their house. The Mom did it all herself for the most part and kept the kids out of the kitchen saying she would teach them when they were older. Well, they got older, moved out and into their own places and didn’t know how to cook very much of anything. They’d ask their Mom for recipes but it’s not the same as learning hands on and side by side and the time for that was gone. Cat’s in the Cradle in the kitchen I suppose.

Where and when to start? Well, our younger two are still in helper stage, although they are starting to be able to handle making scrambled eggs and a few other simple things with help, their cooking jobs mainly involve cracking and mixing eggs, dredging meat in flour, basic cutting of some soft vegetables, adding pre-measured ingredients to whatever is being worked on etc. they love it and I think it is important for them to see how food is prepared.

Of course what they really want to do is cut and chop and sauté stuff – that’s cooking to them (thank you foodtv). What is it about a knife that so attracts the budding youthful chef? When are they ready for that – I think it depends on the kid and when you think they are ready - we let all three of our kids help out and cut things in the kitchen, even the 5 year old, under very close supervision and guidance and while I’m sure there are people who will think we are nuts for that, the pride on her face after cutting up pieces of a cucumber safely and properly is priceless (and the knife she uses isn’t really that sharp – pampered chef makes a kids knife just for that type of application). Getting them ready to chop up onions on the other hand, well we have a great photo somewhere of our oldest solving the onion/eyes problem at about 10 years old – she put on her swim goggles before cutting into the onion. Creative problem solving at its best.

When “B” our oldest was about 8 wanted to know what some various seasonings and herbs tasted like – Jason had her taste them and figure out which ones she liked and let her know that those were probably the ones she would like on/with her food. Some of them she really liked, others she hated and spit out into the trash can – she’s learning. She really likes making dinner for the family and now has a few dishes that she claims as her own – she is the house chef for chicken parmesan and enchiladas and a few other things. She is only 12 so I don’t leave her on her own in the kitchen but I’m more her assistant as well as teacher when she is making dinner. Oddly enough she is more comfortable plunging her hands into a bowl of raw ground meat to mix up some meat loaf or meatballs than she is touching the food on the dirty dishes after we’ve eaten. I would think the raw meat would have more of an ewwww factor but not so.

Speaking of raw meat. Meat comes from animals. My kids know that and I don’t believe in sugar coating the fact that it used to be alive and walking or swimming around. I’m actually more deceptive about other foods – I remember telling my kids we were having “grilled portobello’s” once rather than saying mushrooms because I knew I’d have better luck getting them to eat them.

So how young is too young? I don’t know, but I do know that they have wanted to help since they learned that something was happening in the kitchen and I’ve taken cues from that. I’ve also learned that it’s not just what I want to cook. I’ve learned that sometimes they pick something that they want to make and that sometimes the best thing to is get the ingredients and give it a shot. “B” found a recipe for crab rangoons and we made it – it was not the best and we decided to try to find another recipe before we try that again. Our 6 year old found a recipe for Pita Pocket bread in an issue of Highlights and we’ll be making that tomorrow. I hope its good!

There are a lot of things that parents can do with their kids. Bike rides, hiking, playing games, yard work etc. but I think the things that include life skills are the ones that will last.

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