One of my big goals this summer is to get Princess (age 11) and Buddy (age 9) more involved in helping around the house. You’ll see me talking and writing about it a lot this summer!
One of the things I’ve been interested in teaching them is to help with cooking. I know that by middle school my brother Ted and I were frequently making simple meals per Mom’s directions. . . and wait a minute, why the heck weren’t the other siblings helping? Oh well-cooking is an important life skill for the kids to learn–after all, everyone needs to eat!
Buddy has always enjoyed helping me in the kitchen-wanting to stir things, cracking eggs, things like that. Princess really hasn’t been as thrilled with it, until lately. I bought a kids cookbook and she has happily made a few of the very simple recipes with adult supervision. Lately she’s been asking to make dinner, so last week I decided to let her try.
I told her to take a look through some of my MANY cookbooks. After nixing cream puffs (NOT dinner), she came up to me with this recipe for Spinach Phyllo Pie:
It was a little more complex than I would have chosen as her first solo attempt, but she thought she could handle it. We had the whole afternoon so I figured “why not?!?”. After all, kiddos frequently surprise you and can handle more than we think they can. Why dampen her enthusiasm or her ambition?
Since this was her project I had her sit down with the ingredient list and figure out which ingredients were on hand what we still needed. She had to read the list, check what we had on hand for ingredients and then make a shopping list. Of course I double checked the list–I didn’t want to get home and be missing anything
Then we headed down to our local little grocery store. I had her take the list and the basket and do the shopping. She had to find the ingredients and choose which ones. We discussed the relative value of fresh bagged spinach over the frozen. We considered together whether to purchase the more expensive red peppers or substitute green (she went with red).
Purchases complete we headed back home and began cooking. The Phyllo dough was frozen, so I suggested that we take a look at the recipe while it was thawing and then she could do any chopping and preparation necessary (like thawing & draining the frozen spinach) while we waited.
She cleaned, deseeded (I showed her how) and diced the peppers. I had her stand on a small stool to put her at a better height at the counter. She chopped onions, drained the spinach and did all of the prep.
I did help a little bit with the Phyllo-it’s rather delicate. So I transferred it into the pie plate. But she did all the brushing in of the butter, scraping in the filling, folding the edges of the Phyllo over etc.
Here she is, obviously extremely proud of the finished pie!
So here are my tips for encouraging kids to learn cooking:
1. Try as often as possible to let them help when they offer. Yes, I know that letting them help actually takes longer, and sometimes you are rushing to get a meal on the table. But whenever possible let them help! If you “hook” them when they are younger and interested in helping, making it a fun experience, they are much more likely to enjoy it when they are older.
2. Ask them to help. If your kid just isn’t the kind who is going to ask on their own, try offering to let them help. “I’m making pancakes, do you want to help me stir?”, “does anyone want to help me crack the eggs?” or “would you like to help me run the mixer?”–just offer them the opportunity to do simple jobs (stirring, pushing buttons on a mixer, pouring in ingredients you’ve already measured, helping count tsps or TBS in a recipe as you measure). Whatever you do don’t make it unpleasant for them if they say no~just ask again the next time. You want this to be a positive experience.
3. Start with the fun stuff. Let’s face it, helping with baked chicken just isn’t that interesting. It’s slimy and you can’t lick your fingers. Helping make brownies or cookies? Way better! Baking, even from a box mix, can get kids excited about the end product, and it’s both fun and tasty to lick the batter
4. Make some tasks things that they have to “graduate” into. In our house you couldn’t crack eggs until you were “old enough”. . . and then using a knife to slice or dice things was really a “big kid” thing. Making those activities something to earn through age and experience just turned them into something that was much more attractive. “I’m sorry, you can’t help crack the eggs until you are older” turned into ” well you can crack it on the counter for me, but Mama has to split it open so we don’t get shells” then eventually “ok, you are old enough to try-we’ll have you crack it into a bowl so we can fish out any shells”. Let me tell you, Buddy was very envious when Princess was allowed to crack eggs and he wasn’t–and then proud when he finally could.
5. Phrase it the right way! Making it sound like a privilege rather than a chore is key “You are finally old enough to” “I think you are mature enough” “You are old enough now that I can trust you to” are all great phrases.
Note: I figure it’s time to pass off packing lunches to the kiddos next year. So I told Mallory “I think you are finally old enough that I can trust you to pack your own lunch next year”. . . she was very positive about the idea, and Buddy started insisting that he was old enough too. BONUS!
6. Have them be responsible for other simple food tasks/meals as they get older. My kids started pouring their own cereal for breakfast at about 7 years old. By 8yrs old they were responsible for making things like Ramen Noodles in the microwave, grabbing their own snacks out of the cabinet and occasionally making their own sandwiches. At 10 Princess started using the frying pan with supervision for scrambled eggs and cheese quesedillas. By 11 she was making me fried egg sandwiches and toast for breakfast in bed without supervision at all! Most kids like being “grown up” enough to do these things–and it doesn’t hurt if they get what they want sooner if they do it themselves
7. If they really want to make something, carve out some time and give them the opportunity and assistance. Bite your tongue and let them try to do as much as they want to (safety permitting of course). DO NOT correct everything they do-especially if it really truly doesn’t effect the end result. Who cares if they onions aren’t chopped as small as you would have done? I’d rather have them a bit big and have a kid who is thrilled with the fact that they cooked it all by themselves, then to have perfectly sized onions and a kid who feels like they spent the entire time being told that they weren’t doing it quite right. Again-key in them wanting to help in the long run is making it a pleasant experience where they feel like they’ve accomplished something.
8. Don’t forget the power of praise. I like to compliment the child at the time “Wow, you did a great job at making that-you are getting so grown up!”, and then to let them hear me bragging to other people about their accomplishment. When Princess made the dinner above I made sure that she heard me bragging to her grandmothers and Yankee Bill.
What do you think? Do your kids cook? How did you get them interested?