Cooking Up Life Skills and Good Times with Kids in the Kitchen

November 12, 2019 | by katie jones backer

“Mom, can I cook with you?”

               Anyone else torn between “music to my ears,” and “no, it’s so much easier and faster if I just do it myself”?                 

               My now 11-year-old daughter had expressed a few times that she wanted to learn to cook. Over the years, I’ve had her help here and there, but one day last Fall she asked if she could help me cook EVERYTHING for that night’s meal. As the Type-A, get it done, perfectionist that I am, I considered saying no, but then the teacher in me considered the alternative. Do I want her spending quality time with me learning a life skill and taking part in what could become a fun experience together, or sitting in front of the TV or something while I do all the work? Lightbulb! “Sure,” I said, surprising us both.

               That night we had a blast! My husband came home to a set table with homemade spaghetti sauce, noodles, fresh baked rolls, salad, Italian music, and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookies. My daughter thought it was so fun that she ran and grabbed art supplies and made menus, a welcome sign, and acted as our “restaurant server.” From there, we began to cook together more regularly. Not every night because let’s be honest, there isn’t always time for a drawn-out cooking lesson/homecooked meal, at least in our house, but it has become a weekly tradition.

               My daughter and I plan a surprise meal for my husband and spend the week planning it. She’s included in the whole process from finding the recipes to purchasing and gathering the ingredients and researching the history of the culture or what other foods pair well with our main dish, followed by actually making the meal, and creating the ambiance. It must be the World History teacher in me, but I love a good ethnic meal and warm atmosphere. If we’re having Italian, we listen to Andrea Bocelli and drink from wine glasses. Buon Appetito! If it’s a homemade German schnitzel, we’re listening to German folk music while munching on pretzel appetizers. We learn a few words for our ethnic meals and to try to incorporate them into our dinner conversation. My daughter makes menus, creates a restaurant name and selects the music (with mine or Alexa’s help!). “Alexa, play Spanish guitar.”

               We’ve found that this time together is actually really fun, and we laugh throughout the experience. Cooking can be an escape and my daughter often comments on how relaxing it is. I would have never known that about her had I not allowed her to help. That said, it does take more of my time and patience to oversee her doing the tasks, and not twitching every time there’s a spill.

               My husband simply adores these evenings! He has commented multiple times on how special he feels coming home to a surprise feast from his girls. AND he also has reciprocated this and includes her when he cooks now too. Cooking has become a family activity, and we all get to be involved. Our meals are “made with love” as my daughter often says.

               If this sounds fun to you, but you don’t know where to start, I’d encourage you to consider a few things:

-How old are your children? A 4-year-old’s involvement in the kitchen will look much different than my 11-year-old’s. Start with the basics: Setting the table. Creating a LEGO or drawing for the centerpiece. Frosting the cake. Stirring the mix. Gradually – with safety leading the way - introduce children to bigger tasks such as dicing with knives, stirring the soup on the stove, removing food from the oven.

-How often do you cook during the week and how much time do you have, on average, to devote to preparing your meals? Is there an evening or perhaps a weekend afternoon that you could introduce your child to helping you in the kitchen? Even if it’s a once-a-month activity for starters?

-What are your rules in the kitchen? Are you a family that saves all the mess until the end and then clean up? Or do you clean as you go? Do you like to have silence while cooking or music or TV? Do you stick with a recipe, or do you like to create your own? Do you feel comfortable having your child use certain utensils or being near hot burners? Or do you need to find a space further from the stove that will still allow them to help in some way?

               These may sound obvious, but I do think it’s good to consider. Some things trigger our impatience with our kids more than others, right? For me, I really do like to keep a clean kitchen, so I clean as I go. Therefore, before allowing my daughter to join in, I shared with her how cooking looks in our house, so that I wouldn’t react negatively. If she spills some sauce, or dribbles some mix, she now wipes it up immediately saying to herself, “we clean as we go,” and then there’s no frustration. Spills and accidents happen, but she’s proactive about cleaning it up and I like that. It makes me more likely to want to include her again. We make a good team, and I can honestly say it’s one of our favorite activities to do together now. We even have matching aprons! Who would have thought!? It all started on a whim, but it’s become a fun tradition in our home.

I hope you and your child can cook up some fun together too!

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