Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cooking With Kids

Try it some time. They're delicious!

No, no; I jest. I've never tried children. ("It's a cookbook! A COOKBOOK!")

I HAVE, however, had children assist me with cooking - many times. I've mentioned before on this blog how much my kids like to help me in the kitchen; my daughter in particular. They've been doing it since they were able to pull themselves up on the kitchen stool, and truth be told they're still wee little bits - at 5 and 3 years of age, cooking with my kids is often a challenge. They can't do many of the tasks yet - chopping, dicing, touching raw meat, measuring, pouring correctly, stirring anything that requires precision or actual WORK, putting things in the oven, taking things out of the oven, slaving over a hot stove - yeah. There's not much they CAN do safely or accurately yet. Even the tasks they ARE able to accomplish - pouring in certain ingredients, light stirring - often result in spills, slops, dumps, and extra things (dish soap, anyone?) being added when my back is turned. Cooking with kids is often a supremely frustrating experience.

"helping" me bake the lamb cake last Easter (ages 4 and 2). They could still both share the stool. Barely.

Despite the added hassle, I believe it is a very valuable experience for them. Of supreme importance in their young lives, even. And that is why I keep doing it. That is why I set that damn stool up in my tiny, tiny kitchen over and over, knowing full well I'm going to trip over it 50 times, every time they come running in and squeal "Mommy! Are you cooking? I want to cook with you!" Here are just some of the benefits of cooking with your kids:

1) They learn, from an early age, that food is not 'magic' in that it does not appear out of nowhere. This is an invaluable learning experience - teaching them about the individual ingredients you're using, where they come from, how they got to you, and how they change as you combine them with each other IS a sort of magic.

2) Being able to cook for themselves is a valuable life skill. Have you ever dated someone who lived on take-out or macaroni and cheese and PB&J's? Would you rather date that person or the one that can whip up a mean lasagna and garlic cheese bread on the fly? My kids will never have to rely on other people to cook for them, or rely on bland processed foods as dietary staples.

3) Kids want nothing more than to spend time with you (at least, when they're young). Cooking together will build lifelong memories of good times with Mom (or Dad) in the kitchen. I still look back fondly at Sunday "pancake" mornings with my Daddy. Create cooking rituals with your kids. You won't regret it.

4) Kids are naturally curious and creative. Cooking gives them an outlet and allows them to explore their passions, safely, with your supervision.

5) When you have to make dinner, and you're the only adult home, it's much easier to involve your kids than to send them off to watch TV or entertain themselves... it might make your job a little harder, but they're WITH YOU and not off, say, pouring water into the computer. (My son actually did that. He doesn't have a computer anymore.)

There are other reasons too, that's just what I came up with off the top of my head. I just think that food created with love and laughter tastes better. There are times when I am in a hurry, or I'm making a precise dish, and the kids are underfoot and I get frustrated, and I kick them out. It's true. I'm not perfect. (You're shocked, I know.) But more often than not, I include them. And I try to make it a positive, fun experience. And more often than not, I find that not only are they having fun... I am having fun too.

Today Oksana and I cooked dinner. It was a "take things in the house, combine them in some fashion, hope it tastes good" dinner (another valuable thing to teach them; you don't always have to follow a recipe to create something fantastic. Cooking is all about experimentation, and often it's more forgiving than you'd think!). We combined chicken, mushrooms, bacon, feta cheese, garlic, and some liquids (cream of mushroom soup, chicken broth, butter) and baked them all together. (It was delish, but I'm not posting the recipe yet because it needs a little tweaking.) She helped me wash the mushrooms, put them in the pan after I sliced them, and sprinkled the feta cheese. She ate her first raw mushroom (ANOTHER reason to include them - exposure to new foods, AND they're more likely to try them and get excited about it if they helped create the dish).

As we were getting started, shortly after she climbed up on the stool, she asked me what we were making and I told her what I was thinking about doing. "Doesn't that sound yummy?" I asked her.
"Yeah!" she exclaimed. "I love cooking with you, Mommy! I'm gonna do dis when I have babies. An' I'm gonna make dis, dis chicken and mushrooms and bacon, when I'm a growed-up."

And THAT is why I cook with my kids.

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