Kristina's Blog: Clean Socks and a Dirty Apron
Posted: Sat 12/10/2011 01:00 PM
“I don’t cook because no one ever taught me how.”
If I had a grain of rice for every time I heard someone say that, I could make one mean paella, probably enough to feed an entire country – okay, maybe just a small village, but you get the point. (And if you’re not familiar with paella, my heart honestly breaks for you.)
And yet it’s a very valid excuse.
By the time we’re adults, life gets pretty busy. Unless we’ve mastered a skill in childhood, we’re a lot less likely to put in the effort of learning it while trying to juggle a college thesis and job applications. Childhood is the time we learn new things easily – skills like swimming and biking, which most kids learn quickly and never forget, but which can cause some major fear in adults who are attempting to learn them for the first time.
Most parents work hard to teach their kids the skills they need to best be prepared for adulthood: look both ways before crossing the street, balance your checkbook, wash colors in cold, whites in hot, check the oil in your car, say please and thank you, don’t pick your scabs, zits, nose, or anything else for that matter... But what about cooking? Why is it that we skip over teaching our kids something as basic, and yet as vital, as preparing nourishment for their bodies? It seems a lot of parents just don’t feel it’s as important as laundry or manners. Am I the only one that finds this strange?
My children are still young (8 and 6), but I’ve managed to convince them (or shall I say – brainwash them?) that cooking for the household isn’t my job, or my husband’s job, but that it’s our job as a family. They’re not required to help out every day, but I try to get them involved at least a few times a week. Some days they just help for a few minutes by washing the grapes or stirring the sauce. Other days I really put them to work. I talk them through every step, explaining exactly why we salt the chicken before putting it in the pan, why it’s important to cover the rice, and why you can’t keep opening the oven every few seconds to check on the cinnamon buns, even if you really, really want to. The more information I give them, the more it sparks their curiosity. Kids also like having some control (who doesn’t?), so I put them in charge by taking them to the grocery store and letting them decide on a side dish or what type of berry we should add to our apple bake. Being allowed to make these decisions builds their confidence, which makes them more likely to want to do it again.
Whether or not your kids find cooking interesting and fun has a lot to do with how you approach it with them. If your child is creative, let them help you invent new recipes. If they’re into science, show them all the cool science tricks that go into cooking. If your child is a little mathematician, have them help you figure out how to halve or double a recipe.
One of my kids’ favorite things to make with me is bread. There’s a recipe for rolls I learned years ago when I was a kid growing up in Croatia. I never knew what they were called, so I just very appropriately call them “My favorite rolls” (original...I know).
This is the perfect recipe for kids because it runs the spectrum of their daily fundamental needs:
• Getting messy (kneading dough) – check!
• Performing a science experiment, or magic trick, depending on your kid’s interest (dough rising) – check!
• Painting (spreading filling) – check!
• Pushing buttons (setting timer) – check!
• Eating carbs (most kids’ favorite food group) – check!
Now, let me be completely honest. Is cooking with my kids always a blissful experience? Absolutely not! Are there times where I don’t feel I have the patience to handle two “helpers” in the kitchen? Absolutely yes! Which is exactly why I don’t cook with them every single day, but at the same time I try to never say “no” to them if they offer to help. Yes, it can be time consuming and messy, and sometimes downright annoying, but so is potty training, and yet no parent would say they wish they never bothered with that!
Here’s my plan (and this is where the sweet pay off kicks in): by the time my children are in high school they will be responsible for cooking one meal a week for the family all by themselves. By then, hopefully, I will have taught them all the basics, and they’ll be ready to practice making a full meal all on their own, so that they feel completely confident in their cooking skills by the time they leave home. They will have to choose a recipe (or invent one), write a list of groceries, figure out which sides to serve with the entrée, and everything else that goes into preparing a meal.
Won’t you feel good sending them off someday knowing they can make a good meal for themselves? And, selfishly, won’t you like knowing that you will be well fed every time you go visit them? I sure will.