Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How to Enjoy Cooking with your Kids

Cooking with kids can be:
a. Fun
b. Torture
c. Messy
d. Educational
e. All of the above

The answer is "e" on any given day in our house, depending on the mother's mood. I have to say, I rarely look at it as torture. Well, maybe a tad frustrating if I forget that they are little and messes happen (even to me when I'm not paying attention!).

I grew up cooking with my mom. Some of my best childhood memories are from the kitchen where we laughed, talked, and taste-tested. I call myself a "Sugar Baby" as I am convinced that my mom's sweet tooth was passed on to me in-utero!

I am a firm believer that not every child in the universe likes only mac & cheese, chicken nuggets and hot dogs. In fact, if someone served me this diet on a regular basis, I would definitely revolt! If we keep feeding kids boring and bland food, that is all they will ever know. Don't insult their taste buds. Let them explore different herbs, vegetables, fruits, grains, etc. You will someday be pleasantly surprised by the child who likes quinoa and tabbouleh with fresh mint leaves.

One way to get them to broaden their culinary horizons is to let the kids help you cook. Now, you're probably thinking that you don't have time, it's too messy, you don't really have the patience at the end of a long day, etc. And you're right! But you know, sometimes, you need to step back and let them do it. Kids really do love to help, especially in the kitchen. In case you have a picky eater (and who doesn't at some point?), letting them cook with you is a great way to expose them to different tastes, textures, and smells. And who knows, they might start eating all the funky foods you like! And suddenly, your usually quiet 7 year old suddenly starts opening up about this blond girl at school....

Here are some useful tips to get cooking with the little ones:

1. Get the step stool(s) ready.

2. Little People/Big Tools really don't go hand in hand, so opt for a little whisk, little spoon, little spatula, you get the idea.

3. Safety Rules: Yes, I know you all have common sense but sometimes we get caught up in the moment when the chocolate chip cookies are ready. Make sure the kids steer clear of a 4 foot radius of the open oven. No running in the kitchen, EVER, while cooking. Keep the knives far away, and hide the extra chocolate chips from the kids.

4. Know your limits, and theirs. This means that your kids don't need to cook for 30 minutes straight. In their little world, 5 minutes is a long time. The kitchen timer comes in handy here.

5. When cooking with more than 1 child, give each one a job. You know what they say about too many hands. Let one child pour, one mix, one measure, etc. And speaking of hands, make sure they wash 'em before they start cooking.

6. Let them smell the spices but be careful. You don't want your 2 year old sneezing incessantly after inhaling too much cinnamon or red pepper flakes. Waving the spice jar under the nose is much safer or place some in their little hands to touch and sniff.

7. REMAIN CALM AT ALL TIMES..... EVEN WHEN YOUR 7 YEAR OLD CRACKS EGGS ALL OVER THE KITCHEN COUNTER AND THE DOG STARTS LOPPING UP THE LIQUID EGGS OFF THE FLOOR. Not that this has ever happened while giving a lesson on egg separation, but my point is to be adventurous. (If I teach the boys just enough in the kitchen, my future daughters in-law will thank me for making their lives easier and hopefully it decreases my chances of ending up in a nursing home.)

8. Make things that they like. Pancakes are great because they get to reap the rewards right after. And did I mention cookies?

9. Make things they don't like. Yes, it's not always about them, right? Eventually they will need to eat more variety so why not start young. The crazier the food, the better!

10. Let the kitchen double as a classroom. For school age kids it's a great way to sneak in math concepts, fractions, and measuring. You can also save money on a tutor this way.

11. For the really little ones ages 10 -18 month olds, give them a bunch of empty plastic containers and some wooden spoons, old measuring cups, etc to play with. This will surely buy you some time while you prepare your next masterpiece.

Do you have any tips for cooking with kids? Please share them here!

ps. The photo above is my son Nicolas eating homemade pizza sauce, one of his faves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great advice. I couldn't agree with you more about including them in the kitchen. YES, they absolutely love it. Even when they're here, the step stool is pulled over to the counter by Nicolas and he's raring to go.:)
Of course he loves sneaking the choc. chips while we're mixing the pancake batter.. :) Too cute.