Friday, March 27, 2009

Welcoming Kids to Your Kitchen

This week I've been running a daily cooking school for my boys. It has been a challenge to find recipes that work for a kindergartner and a 2nd-grader. But I've had some success so far.

But first, a little background.

When I was growing up in a family of eight (six kids, two parents) the prevailing philosophy was that you never say no to a child's offer of help. My mother was skilled at finding small jobs for us and gradually teaching us to make our way around the kitchen on our own. I remember standing on a chair learning to make spaghetti sauce from my grandmother. I shredded carrots for salad and cheese for homemade pizza on the box grater I still use. Ours was a collaborative kitchen.

My husband came from a totally different place. His mother and grandmother are fantastic cooks, but helpful children were encouraged to watch or 'keep company' rather than digging in -- that is, unless a family cooking project had been planned in advance. As the kids grew up, the girls were taught all the family recipes, but the boys had to learn it on their own.

Lucky for me, my husband is a persistent guy. Once he was out on his own, he developed a file of his favorite recipes from mom, hastily scribbled down on scraps of paper as he phoned home for instructions. We still have a file folder of those recipes, and use them.

Now that I'm raising my own brood, I would rather follow the 'all help is welcome' philosophy. Part of making that a reality is helping the children feel welcome and tuned-in to what is going on in the big tiled room with the appliances. I know that if I want my kids to be able to cook on their own, I have to teach them early.

It's a little work. But I know that it will be worth it in the end.

After all, I still follow Grandma Pasqualina's sauce recipe -- to the letter. Sometimes a good recipe becomes a part of who you are.

Back to cooking school.

I decided that this Spring break was the time to start teaching, and my boys have made something in the kitchen virtually every day.

When the week began, they brought a few skills to the table, so to speak. They have long been my 'mixer men', standing on a stool working the controls for my Kitchen-Aid. They had been shown the miracle of meringue and the magic of whipping cream. They know how to make and flip pancakes and have mastered the art of cheddar-cheese-fortified Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

But now it was time to expand the skill-set. Monday I offered to let them make and frost a cake by themselves. I handled the oven; they did the rest. They even wanted me to show them how to pipe a shell border onto their cake for decoration. I gave all three kids -- even my 3 year-old -- a turn.

On Tuesday, they wanted to make lunch. "Mexican Pizza" was the choice, so they shredded cheese and chopped vegetables, assembled the ingredients on tortillas, and I popped them under the broiler. It was a delicious lunch.

Wednesday was a busy day. Halfway through the day, though, my kindergartner asked what he could make all by himself. I let him choose a box of instant pudding. He read the instructions himself, measured out the milk, and beat it with a whisk until it magically turned to chocolate pudding. He kept it in the fridge as a secret to spring on the rest of the family. When it was served, he was so proud.

Last night we had an entirely kid-made supper. Kid-measured and kid-mixed meatloaf. Kid-peeled, kid-diced, kid-boiled, and kid-mashed potatoes. Kid-washed, kid-chopped, kid-assembled tossed salad. Sure, we didn't get to eat until 8:00... but it was delicious.

Tonight will be a challenge, though. It's a Friday during Lent, so we'll have to go meatless. Maybe Pasta Primavera is the way to go. Maybe I'll just let them make grilled cheese. Who knows?

The important thing is that they're learning and helping and having fun. And it's not taking a lot of effort to teach them. The key is that we started the week with the premise that they can do it.

Helping them feel welcome and encouraging that can-do attitude makes all the (delicious) difference!

- Midwest Mom


  1. That is so cool :) my daughter loves to help in the kitchen :)

  2. I have 3 sons who love nothing better than to help--in the kitchen. I still haven't convinced them that picking up toys and weeding is fun yet.

  3. I raised my son to be able to cook, clean, basically, tend to himself. Of course, it was gradual and depended on what age he was at. I think it's important that they are able to take care of themselves, and someone else, when they need to.


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