I wrote the following post as part of the Love Your Veggies program, for which I am a paid spokesperson.
I used to hate cooking with my kids. Actually, I used to hate cooking. I’ve always been in love with baking, but cooking was something that had to be done just to keep the rest of the family from starving. And I never wanted my kids anywhere near the kitchen. They just added time, and mess, and aggravation. I started letting them cook with me as a way to get them more involved in what gets to their plates, so that they don’t go off on their own some day thinking that food magically appears, fully formed into a meal, every few hours. And you know what? It’s been fun. Honestly. And that surprised me.
They each like to do different tasks and cook different foods, which works out great because it’s nicer all around when I’m working with them one at a time. (Unless it’s something like pizza dough, where they can each make their own batch, start to finish, side by side.) Over the winter I’ve developed some Dos and Don’ts that work for us. Your family may have a different rhythm, but the only way you’ll know is if you all roll up your sleeves and get cooking together.
Fiona eats more dough than she bakes
Use the time wisely
Cooking with the kids is simply going to take longer, at this stage anyway. It seems much more worth it if we’re making something that’s going to last past that one day, and the bigger projects are more fun for the kids too. Just yesterday Fiona and I made a delicious soup that three out of the four of us will be eating all week (Jake wouldn’t go near soup unless he was on a reality show and there was a large cash prize at the end). She had never made soup before, and was amazed at how many things went in and how it all blended together. I could tell that she had never given the process a second thought. Whether her soup came from a can or the fridge, it was just magically ready. I like that she’s aware now of what it takes to get it there.
Cater to their tastes
Letting kids cook with you is not going to instantly transform a picky kid into an adventurous eater, but I’ve had a couple of big breakthroughs with the kids while they were in the kitchen with me. A few years ago I was sautéing some carrots, and I just knew that Jake would never eat them, so I was making them to my taste. He watched me toss a bunch of dill in there. He was so curious about what the green stuff was that he smelled it, then tasted a little, and then at the table tasted the carrots covered in dill, while I picked my jaw up off the ground. To this day that’s the only way he’ll eat carrots, and he eats them enthusiastically – it’s one of the few vegetable he genuinely likes. I’m convinced that if he hadn’t actually seen me making them, if they had just come to the table with gross green stuff all over them, he never would have tried them. So yes, that dish has become somewhat of a crutch – I make it several times a week just so that he’ll actually eat a vegetable. But I’m grateful he eats one without me having to beg and nag.
When Fiona and I made that soup, she tasted as we went and told me exactly what she thought of each ingredient. She discovered that she didn’t hate onions once they were cooked, that roasted garlic is yummy but slimy, and that spinach is OK as long as it’s in little pieces. There were a couple of ingredients that she insists makes the soup worse, though. She hates big chunks of tomato (even though she loves creamy tomato soup) and despite cannellini beans being a main ingredient of the soup, she eats around them. So next time I’m going to let her make her own pot, leaving out what she doesn’t like, instead of watching her pick those things out of her bowl at the table.
The Happy Chef
My big mistake in the past with the kids was having them help me make dinner after school and activities. That’s just a recipe for disaster. They’re tired, I’m in a hurry, and even if we manage to get a meal on the table that’s it, it’s one meal, and it took more time than usual thanks to their “help.” Teaching someone is never as quick and easy as just doing it yourself, so now I save most of our cooking for the weekends. Whatever we’re making, we make a lot of it. I like fast food when I’m alone, especially if I’m working. If I’m hungry I want the quickest thing available. If that’s a bag of chips or some frozen pasta, that’s what I’ll grab. But if I’ve got a bunch of soup in the fridge ready and waiting, I’ll eat it. So I like to make food on the weekends to use for the week ahead.
“Honey, is there any soup?”
We’re all addicted to fellow Love Your Veggies spokesperson Jennifer Perillo’s pizza dough, so that’s another great recipe for the kids to make, especially since they can do it pretty much by themselves, start to finish (Fiona needs a little help with the measurements). Sure, their dough doesn’t look as pretty as mine, but I don’t hear them complaining. They each make one batch at a time, we bake it half-way on my favorite little pizza pans and freeze it, and then we thaw it, top it, and bake it the rest of the way for a quick dinner on those evenings when Tae Kwon Do keeps us out late.
Keep it interesting
As much as I would like the kids to be involved every single step of the way so that they can better appreciate how much work goes into cooking, there’s some stuff that they simply can’t do. Having Fiona stand there watching me chop a pound of carrots with a giant knife would get her bored before we really got started, and she’d just end up annoying me. So I do whatever prep work I can – mostly chopping and peeling – before the kids get involved. The night before we made the soup I roasted the garlic and chopped the carrots and onions, so that everything was ready to dump right into the pot.
On the other hand, stuff that I find routine and boring is fun for the kids. I discovered recently that Fiona picks the leaves off of cauliflower much better than I do, and she likes doing it! So that’s one prep job that is now hers and hers alone. Jake loves mashing things (no big surprise there) so whenever I have something that needs to be mashed, smashed, or pounded, I call him in. And naturally, they both love the blender and hand beaters. Rinsing vegetables and opening cans are two more things that Fiona loves to do – every time she opens a can she flexes her muscles and shows us how much stronger she is.
I’m not one of those parents who thinks that every single activity should be turned into a learning experience, but cooking is just tailor made for teaching math. I’ve got Jake dividing fractions when we don’t have the right measuring spoon clean. I’ve got Fiona figuring out how many cups of water we need if we’ve got four cups of broth and need seven cups of liquid total. And they think it’s fun.
Don’t be afraid of the stove and the oven
I know a lot of parents who don’t want their kids around the stove, ever. I get it. It’s scary, and one fall could mean a trip to the hospital and skin grafts. But much like you can’t let a kid cross the street for the first time alone at eighteen, you can’t expect an adult to suddenly know stove safety if they’ve never used one. Get a sturdy step stool, have a talk about hot oil and boiling liquids, and stay very close by. Jake I would trust at the stove by himself for short periods – I think you’re a lot less likely to lose your balance if you’re standing on the floor – but as long as Fiona is standing on a step stool, I’ll be right next to her.
“Really, Mommy, you need a picture of this too?”
Don’t overdo it
I love spending an entire Saturday in the kitchen, but I’ve found that one recipe is usually enough for my kids in one day. Anything more than that and I’m begging for help as they start to whine and drift away. I’d rather leave them wanting more than overwork them.
If they’re getting on my nerves, though, I can channel it into some dough, especially with Jake, who is becoming quite the pizza maker. It’s a lot harder to hit your sister when your arms are exhausted.
I would love to hear from you all some recipes you like to make with your kids. And don’t forget to visit Love Your Veggies for more ideas on cooking, gardening, and eating veggies with your kids.
Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 14. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn, Behind the Screen, and Momtourage, and podcasts with The Blogging Angels.