Kids in the Kitchen: How to do it and why it matters.

Even as a professional chef I find it difficult to get dinner on the table at times. We are all busy. It really takes effort and planning to make family mealtimes work. Days when I’m busy, the kids are fussy and my husband is working late all tempt me to throw in the towel and grab the phone to order take out. If it has been a particularly trying day the boxes of cold cereal in the pantry look really appealing!! On those days I have to remind myself of the impact that cooking with my mom and family had on me. And you know, sometimes cold cereal wins out—I am not perfect nor do I have limitless energy. But I believe that now, more than ever, it is crucial to connect to each other and our children and to pass on skills to the next generation. And if nights are filled with activities and work, try making breakfast your family meal.

Cooking with my mom had long reaching effects. It introduced me to new foods and also allowed us time to talk in a relaxed environment. You don’t have to drive anywhere, and you have to eat. Let’s face it. We all have to eat. Overall, cooking together was an easy way for us to have a shared experience and one that I try to duplicate with my daughter. When we were very young my mom would find recipes that my brother and sister and I could make together. For example, if we made a pie, I was responsible for the (graham cracker) crust, my sister the filling and my brother the topping. Some lessons that I learned in the kitchen growing up and have been reinforced as an adult are: choose not only age appropriate recipes and but skill level appropriate recipes too. It’s okay to make a mess—just remember to clean it up. I like to clean as I go, and finish with an almost tidy kitchen. (This is sometimes lost upon my daughter!) And last but not least, not everything will turn out the way that you want. And that’s perfectly okay. Find joy in the fact that your kids actually want to spend time with you—they will grow up and away soon enough.

In addition to being a great way to connect with your friends and family, cooking is a fantastic way to introduce reading and math skills to your children. A perfect example would be to make chocolate chip cookies. After reading thru the recipe, you and your child can count out each individual chocolate chip. (Make sure to nibble on a few along the way to check for quality!) After baking, a fun game would be to estimate the average number of chocolate chips in each cookie. Each recipe that you make together is an opportunity to count, read and learn new words—as well as an opportunity to talk and exchange stories.

The two most important things to remember when you are cooking with your children in the kitchen are 1. Have fun. Be light hearted and experiment with recipes. 2. Have patience. Let me say that again. Have Patience. With the big messes and the small. With the things that turn out exactly right and the things that don’t. And believe me, not everything will turn out well—all moms know, if you turn your back for a second there is no telling what your sweet, adorable child will add to the bowl. (umpteen cups of flour and an entire canister of cinnamon, anyone? )

What our children want most of all is quality time with us. No Iphones or Ipads, no TV’s. Just you. Time when we are focused on them and what they are doing. That is really what it is all about, isn’t it? Sure, cooking together may create better/healthier/more adventuresome eaters, but by spending time in the kitchen together you can accomplish so much more than dinner!

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