Like life, cooking is messy, sometimes complicated, occasionally dangerous and at best outrageous fun. It is also a practical art and skill that can be rewarding on many levels. Like: you get to eat a finished product as a result of your work.
I am a teacher of cooking with kids, and I loved the recent New York Times Food section article entitled Cooking With Kids: 5 Reasons you should be doing it.
The authors of the thoughtful piece make important points, including Children who cook say “I can,” not “I can’t.” As an educator, I wholeheartedly agree with this point. Yes, you should be doing it. And, speaking for myself as a parent, I need help making it fun from time to time.
To that end, here are four lessons I can offer, from cooking in my family and in the cooking workshops I offer:
#1 Breakfast, anyone?
Use breakfast projects as a starting point for cooking with kids. Bonus: ingredients for a great breakfast are often on hand, and for me, less need for shopping makes it more likely a project will happen.
Use breakfast dishes as a stepping stone to mastering another, bigger project: dinner for the family. Here is a simple and fun egg dish that requires some cooking skills (or help from an adult) but is not hard to pull off: coddled eggs. By the way: this kind of challenge that pays off also is a good way to make cooking fun.
#2 Food is art
For all cooks, and the smallest ones especially, cooking can be fuel for creativity. It is a chance to play with color, texture, aroma, flavor. A cook’s motion and action can lend to this experience too. Chopping, blending, pouring, stirring: these are all things kids can, and love, to do. Sometimes, I lose sight of the art of it all, but a good cooking project with kids can bring that all back for me.
Here is a fun project that will engage kids and offer a feast for the senses:
Chocolate Date Butter
Rich, smooshy, sweet and gooey, this recipe has it all. Serve with apple slices, toast or pancakes (this also works for “Breakfast, anyone?” above!)
- 1/2 c butter
- 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 T confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 c chopped dates
Kids can help pit and chop the dates. To make the butter, place all ingredients in a food processor (I use a blender) and blend until combined.
Spoon onto plastic wrap and roll the butter into the shape of a tube. Serve with apple slices or on toast.
For a refreshing treat, you can also work with your kids to make Hibiscus Tea and Strawberry Cooler.
#3 Practice mindfulness before, during and after
Take it slow and easy. This is possibly the most important of all tips. Ever. Cooking with children is more fun for everyone with a pinch of deep breathing thrown in. There are going to be moments where you want to take over the cucumber chopping, or where small pieces of butter somehow jump from the bowl to every possible nook of the kitchen. But take an extra moment or two before you react or jump in. See this piece about experiencing failure in chores and this piece about children and knives.
As the New York Times piece points out, cooking can bring you closer to your kids. And that will only happen if you let a lot of stuff go. See the next lesson for something that will help you let it go.
#4 Kids cooking = Kids clean up
When you cook, you make a mess. When you make a mess, you clean up. It is that simple, yet profound and far reaching. Cleaning up after a project is a very satisfying experience, too.
I’d love to hear how it all goes! For more discussion and ideas about cooking with kids, visit the Ginger Pie Classes Facebook page.
Laura Minnigerode is a long-time teacher and cook. She founded Ginger Pie Creative Cooking to give kids the space and power to find adventure with real food that tastes delicious. The classes emphasize exploring tastes and textures while learning new techniques. Each activity uses organic, local and high quality ingredients whenever possible, and the cost of the class includes lots of good tasting work products.