I am facing a dilemma here in The Risky Kids kitchen: my kids are not adept in the kitchen.
My husband and I both have strong memories of cooking for ourselves at a fairly young age. By the time we in middle school we were both latch key kids. I made a lot of Bisquick muffins and quesadillas. He made box after box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.
My kids, however, live in a different world. I am always home after school and we eat dinners that I prepare myself almost every evening. I love to cook, they have little interest, and they almost always spend the hours between school and dinner occupied with play and/or homework. They’ve shown fleeting interest (mostly when the possibility exists that there will be batter to lick), but for the most part they prefer to do other things. The end result is that they’re almost never in the kitchen with me. And as happy as we all are with the dynamic, I know that it needs to change.
You might think all this fuss we make about risky play boils down to fun (for them) and laziness (for us). That is partly true – allowing kids to play and explore freely is fun and does make life a little easier for us. When we’re not hovering, we’re able to pursue our own interests. However, there is a method to this madness, and that’s the end goal. We want our kids to grow up to be independent, thoughtful, and confident adults. Sometimes they learn the intangibles, like confidence and independence, through free play. And sometimes it takes shared activities to learn skills that we all should master by the time we leave home. Cooking would be one such skill.
There isn’t any question in my mind that even as preschoolers, children are capable of learning and executing basic kitchen skills. Pretend Soup and Salad People , Mollie Katzen’s cookbooks for children, are excellent resources for teaching young children basic knife and cooking skills. Snack prep was part of daily life in my kids’ Montessori classroom, and Montessori catalogs sell real tools for preschooler to use – including knives, vegetable peelers, and graters. I’m more than game to teach my kids how to use these tools and set them free. (Although for some reason my husband has an irrational fear of letting the kids use our Pampered Chef cheese slicer. He’s convinced they’ll slice a finger off along with the cheddar.)
I know that kids Elena’s age (11) are more than capable of being self-sufficient in the kitchen. Elena is slowly coming around, but she lacks the confidence and intuition that makes all the difference in cooking success vs. failure. She is a slave to the timer, and doesn’t trust herself to know when something is done. She loves Bagel Bites, and (especially in the summer) makes them for herself once or twice a week. She’s been doing this for a year now, and it still never fails that I’ll get this question at least once during the process:
“Mom! Are my Bagel Bites done?”
We go through a list of questions you can ask yourself: How long have they been in the oven? Are they bubbling? Are they turning golden brown? If you quickly touch the tops, are they warm or hot? We do this EVERY time.
I know issues like these, as well as getting both of them comfortable with basic kitchen skills (knife use, stove and oven safety, following a recipe, etc.), will simply take time, experience and repetition. The dilemma I have is that my kids just aren’t interested in learning any of this stuff! Most parents struggle with the fear – my kid will cut his finger off or my daughter will burn down the house. Nope, not me. I’m in the kitchen offering knives and flames, but no one’s coming.
So what do I do? Do I wait for the interest to eventually show up, and capitalize on it then? Or do I pull them away from play and make dinner prep a family activity?
I’d love to know how you’ve incorporated your kids into the kitchen. Did you let them cook and use kitchen tools from an early age? Are you scared to let them chop and simmer? Did someone teach you these skills from an early age, or did you figure it out on your own? Or are you just as lost in the kitchen as my kids are?