Ever since Noah caught onto reading, he’s showed a renewed interest for cooking like a match to flame. Often I’ll find him ensconced in the sofa, a cookbook opened on his lap and a thoughtful expression on his face.
“What is ‘polenta’, Mom? Do we have everything for this? Can I make breakfast tomorrow?”
He’s bookmarked about 20 recipes in the Weelicious cookbook, and his interest in The Complete Book of Knife Skills has his grandmother concerned, but I take it as a further sign of my seven-year-old’s piqued curiosity for food and cooking.
For years, I’ve been an advocate of getting kids in the kitchen, insisting that teaching kids about food can begin in the grocery store or the garden, but the real magic happens alongside you, in the kitchen.
Now, this whole recipe-reading, second-grader competence is new to me. And I like it. It seems I’m really starting to reap the benefits of starting the boys young, and they are well on their way to a long life of cooking from scratch.
Spring Break in the Kitchen
You’d think that the first day of spring break would include hours of Lego play strung together, interrupted by an occasional afternoon of sledding, but no, Noah had other plans. He begged to get into the kitchen, to create, to be together.
So we perused some cookbooks and recipes (menu planning skill development), double-checked to see if we had everything on hand (stocked pantry awareness), and he went to bed excited for morning to arrive.
I slept a little later than usual that day and by the time I made it downstairs, two tousle-headed, pyjama-clad boys had the table set and pancakes under way. Noah was hunched over his recipe, enunciating every syllable:
“Mom! I’m never going to do this – ‘Drop. the. egg. on-to. the-floor.’.”
I glanced over his shoulder at the recipe, “Flour, Noah. The flour, not floor.” His exclusively French-language education sometimes trips him up when reading English. But he does okay, and my floors were spared an early morning egg wash at least.
Danny handed me a coffee and as I sat down to a breakfast made for me by my 5 and 7 year-old, I though about the earlier days of cooking with them. The messes. The questions. How I had to draw a long, deep breath when they pushed that stool up to the counter next to me.
But that morning, with about six years of combined experience between them, and from the way my breakfast tasted, I guessed I had a lot to look forward to that day.
Turns out, I was right. Here’s what they served for dinner.
Let your (school-aged) kids loose in the kitchen and eat the benefits
While Clara napped in the morning, the boys mixed up focaccia side by side, following a recipe from ‘The Silver Spoon for Children’. I took a few photos and fielded questions about yeast, warm water, and the activation process – our science lesson for the day.
We worked the dough by hand, as I have a strict ‘no appliances’ rule for the kids. It’s not just for safety reasons, I want them to know how to cook without relying on gadgets or power tools. We whip cream by hand, knead dough with our muscles, and shred cheese with a box grater. It’s much more fun this way.
Later, when the baby took her afternoon siesta, Noah made a tomato sauce, while Mateo shredded lettuce and peeled carrots for a salad. They set the table again. We sampled the focaccia; they nodded their approval.
Ten minutes before our usual dinner hour, Noah carefully added spaghetti to a pot of boiling water. Under my supervision, of course. The steam from the pot swirled high as our conversation drifted from cooking to school and back to food again. I drained the pasta. He grated the Parmesan cheese.
As Clara crawled across the floor to greet Danny home from work, Noah sauced the pasta and Mateo garnished it liberally with cheese. We sat down to a meal made entirely by their small hands – the first, but certainly not the last.
Let your (school-aged) kids loose in the kitchen and watch them learn
Other than the obvious benefit of having dinner made for you, warm focaccia and all, there are plenty of good reasons to encourage your school-aged children loose in the kitchen. Here are a few:
- Learn to identify ingredients. Garlic, onion, or shallots – which is the correct pick for the pasta sauce?
- Multiplication. They want more cookies? They have to do the math.
- Reading. Every recipe made begins with a full read through the ingredient list and instructions. That’s mandatory in my kitchen- for all ages.
- Creativity. Want to dress up that pizza or sandwich with something wild? Why not?
- Substitution. Oregano for basil, dried herbs for fresh. We learned that while making the pasta sauce. It’s just the beginning.
- Competence, thus, Confidence.
And really, the list could go on. Connecting with the land. Science. Respect for farmers and producers. Respect for mama, who cooks daily.
And I have good news: the mess is less. It gets better.
For a list of recipes (and more tips) to make with your children, be sure to bookmark this post from the archives: Easy Recipes that Kids Can Cook.
For recipes, we like to cook from the following:
|Really Easy Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce|| |
- 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 14 ounces dried spaghetti
- 1 Tablespoon salt (for water)
- Put the canned tomatoes into a pan and add the sugar, oregano and olive oil.
- Squash the garlic with a rolling pin and peel off the skin. Add garlic to the tomatoes.
- Bring the tomatoes up to a gentle simmer; the sauce will bubble slightly. Cover with a lid and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes. Stir the sauce once in a while.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and add 1 tablespoon salt.
- Ask an adult to help you cook and drain the spaghetti.
- Pour the sauce over the drained spaghetti and top with Parmesan cheese if you like. Serve your pasta right away.
Is it hard for you to welcome your kids into the kitchen? Do they like to help?