Cooking with Kids
The most important thing my mother taught me was not how to read or how to ride a bike, it was how to cook. Feeding yourself is something you will be doing the rest of your life. Yes, sometimes we get take out or we want to celebrate in a nice restaurant, but this food is too rich to eat on a daily basis. At home you are in control of the quality of ingredients and there is simply no substitute for home made nutrient dense food.
When it comes to cooking, I am nowhere near perfect. There are nights when, like many other parents, I feel the witching hour coming on and I throw on a movie to get the kids out of the kitchen while I whip up the easiest, fastest meal I can possibly produce. However, there are many more nights that I slow down, start prepping vegetables, humming, and draw the interest of both of my young children away from the screen and into the kitchen.
It is a natural behavior for kids to want to help out, they just don't always know how. This is why ever since I started giving gifts to our kids, I have always thought of function. I buy them sturdy plastic knives, kid friendly spatulas, molds for homemade gummies, and fun measuring devices. I have noticed that my kids are often more inclined to help out in the kitchen when they feel comfortable with their own tools.
When I include the kids I try to create a family style assembly meal. Think of it like a salad bar where each item is prepared individually and the kids can choose what they want on their plate. If your kids do not usually eat salad, try a taco salad bar dinner. Make sure the lettuce option is crunchy like Romaine hearts, and that there are enough items they like to choose from. Have a few bowls of protein choices to make it a nutrient dense meal like cooked ground beef, grated cheese, and of course a dressing they like. I usually stick to a basic vinaigrette of olive oil and vinegar or fresh guacamole. Add a bowl of tortilla chips to scoop up the salad and you will be surprised how much they serve themselves.
Another meal I love to prepare involves cutting and prepping the bowls of food and then sitting back and watching the kids make dinner.
If you have never tried Vietnamese rice wraps, you are in for a treat. Rice wraps are inexpensive "tortillas" that are made of rice and can be found at the asian markets, though I love these brown rice wrappers from Whole Foods (or on Amazon). They come hard like a dry noodle, but one dip into water and they start to soften like a cooked noodle. Once the items from the recipe are laid out, the kids can dip their wrappers in water, fill them up with goodies, roll them up and voila! While they are at it, let them roll a few for their lunches the next day too. They will be so proud that they "cooked" their own lunch and just think of those precious minutes you will save in the morning.
It has been proven that families that eat together create better behaviors and relationships. We think family style dinners really bring the family together, they offer the perfect place to practice food passing etiquette, and they allow everyone to feel useful and eager to share.
Whether it is simply letting them stir the batter, or slice the avocado, the skill of cooking is a great gift to give your child. I encourage you to start letting them prep a little at a time until they can make their own lunch. Our 8 year old now makes quesadillas for the whole family which is such a blessing on a lazy Sunday afternoon. She is so proud of her skill set and I am so relieved to take a break from the kitchen. Our five year old loves making rice wraps for company and I love to sit down with friends and complement my sous chef as he gets to work.
Here are some simple age appropriate skills your sous chefs can enjoy in the kitchen:
Ages 3-6: They need a sturdy stool to lift them to the appropriate height and a calm instructor
- Cutting soft fruits and vegetables like bananas or apples with a butter knife
- Filling measuring cups, dumping them into the bowls, and mixing the batter
- Layering a lasagna or casserole into the baking dish
- Learn to use a toaster and spread butter, let them "cook" their own toast
- Fill up the blender and, of course, push the buttons
- Use an orange juicer and learn to make their own juice
Ages 6-10: They need to be taught appropriate skills and the freedom to make mistakes
- Cutting all vegetables with a sharp blade (first slice a flat edge so the produce does not roll)
- Measuring spices and flours that are more specific
- Turning on the stove, pouring batter onto a skillet and flipping over pancakes
- A child this age can slice cheese and make their own quesadilla or grilled cheese
- Juicers and food processors are very safe tools for this age to master
- Learn to use a waffle iron and make their own breakfast
At age 10, I could bake a meatloaf for my family and prepare our dinner by myself. You too can prepare a little chef, if you give them the tools they need for success. Sharing the gift of cooking is giving a gift that will bring health and wellness to your entire family. If you never learned how to cook, now is the time to learn together and enjoy cooking with kids.