Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kids in the Kitchen

My daughter enjoyed cooking at a young age

My youngest daughter turned seven at the end of September. One of her birthday presents was a "real" cooking kit with kid-sized cooking utensils. She has been asking me to cook with her since she got it. My response to cooking with my kids is mixed. As a dietitian, I'm thrilled that they have an interest in preparing food. I see a great opportunity to teach them about the healthy foods that we all need to eat more often. As a mother, I'm hesitant to cook with them. I'm so tired of cleaning up messes all the time and the surest way to a messy kitchen is to have your kids cook. I have come to realize that the kitchen is my area of control. Unless I'm cooking with a clone, I prefer to cook alone. Despite my need to feed and nurture with food, I'm not the most nurturing person the kitchen. I watch commercials of parents cooking with their kids and wonder why I'm not as happy as those parents seem when I am cooking with my kids.

Being aware of my flaw, I have been trying to overcome it and have been pleasantly surprised at how helpful my kids can actually be in the kitchen (hold on a minute while I adjust my blinders)! My two older children each had to plan and prepare a meal for a seventh grade class. I was impressed at how conscientious they were to choose a healthy menu and how much pride they had in executing the whole meal themselves. Of course, they came to me for guidance, but they did all the chopping, cooking, and cleaning. What a great school project! I now find myself focusing on the "teaching moments" that I have with my kids in the kitchen. Put the caps back on containers and put them away when you are finished using them. Don't lick your fingers, but if you do, you must wash them (we wash our hands a lot in my kitchen). Completely disassemble the blender when you are washing it, including the rubber seals. By focusing on what I can teach my children as we cook I am creating my kitchen clones, but I'm also teaching them about food safety, healthy eating and how to be more efficient while cooking.

I've had a few food-related surprises with my kids recently. This past Thanksgiving weekend, my seven year old daughter took an active part in preparing one of the many meals that my family serves during this time. She helped her grandma prepare for a dinner party and was there every step of the way from grocery shopping, cooking and setting the table. She even served herself Brussels sprouts at the meal and ate them all! My middle child and oldest daughter has gotten in the habit of making me and my husband breakfast. We are often awakened on a Saturday or Sunday morning to the smell of brewing coffee. This past month she didn't even ask us to take her to the mall later that day! Finally, my son, who is the first born, completely surprised me when he told me that he was joining the cooking club in high school. I can't tell you how proud I am of that, especially when he mentioned that many of his friends don't see the value of cooking when you can get prepared foods on any street corner. These are my sweet rewards for allowing my kids to make a mess in our kitchen! The mess is such a small thing compared to the lifelong skills you teach your children by allowing them to cook. I'd love to hear your stories about cooking with your kids. Perhaps some of them have gone on to become chefs, teachers or scientists. The skills learned from cooking can be used in many ways.

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