Cooking with your kids - the unchore
A great way to kick the quarantine boredom while kids learn life skills, develop good eating habits, gain confidence and self-esteem, and all bond as a family.
I do think there is something about cooking that kids naturally love. Making a meal can be a creative process, putting ingredients together in new and unusual ways. And children’s minds are less constrained by boundaries than our adult bundle of neurons (sorry to say; I do try to stay fresh). I’ve had my kids come up with kitchen tips worthy of sending into the idea pages of food magazines, too bad we never got around to it. The culinary arts are a bit messy, too. We all know how kids love that! I am wagging my finger at parents everywhere telling you to stop stressing if Jack spills sugar, drops an egg on the dog, or spills a pot of gazspacho. That kind of mess can be cleaned up, but raising an adult with no home skills is asking to have a future daughter/son in law who hates you. And that is a very tricky mess to clean up!
Kids as young as 4 have figured out when you are giving them a chore that really doesn’t need doing…. They know that everyone in the house HAS to eat. So allowing them to help gives them a true sense of purpose, and real confidence. What can your kids do, and at what age?? Please follow basic safety rules…. Hot surfaces/liquids electric appliances, open flames, and sharp blades need to be respected at any age. Below find some age appropriate suggestions.
Age 2-3: Kids at this age need close supervision. Best to introduce them to tasks that can be done with their hands and noses. Let them wash and scrub produce. Have them rip and tear salad and other leafy greens, (the salad spinner is a hit with this crowd!) break the fibrous ends off of asparagus, snap the outer leaves off of artichokes. Have them smell the herbs and spices as you add them to food. Their noses have better and more receptors than do ours, so let them enjoy that heady scent of rosemary!! Let them get creative and enjoy the fun in preparation….garnish and decorate, build the rainbow plate. Stirring and pouring are also fun tasks. Just know they will have some misses. But they will improve, and ya gotta start somewhere! Some more complex tasks such as grating, peeling, egg breaking can be done with your hands helping their little hands.
Age 4-5 : They will need less supervision at the tasks that they have mastered. Great age to begin rolling dough, using a pastry brush, and to start measuring (oh joy, a great mushroom cloud of flour awaits) . Dough and patty handling can be introduced, as long as you are mindful of the germ risk that raw egg and raw meat possess. Start teaching them what spices go together.
6-8: Allow them to be more independent at the tasks they have mastered. It might still be a bit of a mess, but they can crack eggs on their own at this age! You can start introducing sauteing and stiring on the stove (don't forget to turn the handles to where they cannot hit them!) by standing alongside them. Also a good age to introduce chopping. I would suggest using a knife with a slightly serrated edge, marking it as the only knife for them to use. Stand behind them and let your hand guide theirs (the first dozen times or so). This age group can start planning menus and meals. I know I'll sound like I have gender bias here, but boys especially are captivated by gadgets.... the lemon juicer, the rasp, apple corers, cherry pitters (can you tell my gadget drawers are well stocked?) Look at the nutmeg grinder in the photo. Now how irresistble is that???
9 and up: At this point, consider sending them to a cooking lesson or camp and have them come back to teach you and the rest of the family what they learned! Let them continue to practice their skills, so that as they continue to get busier and more involved in their own activities, they are adept enough to still have a place in the kitchen. Make the kitchen a cultural lesson, as you help them research ethnic food and plan a themed meal. The sky's the limit.... Moroccan?? Pakistani?? Peruvian???
Just as in any other chore, it will be more work for you to cook along side your children until they become proficient. But what valuable bonding time it will be.... because food is love!!!