Unfortunately I think this may be the image some people have when the subject of cooking with children arises. I promise you, this is not what it looks like at my house – well, most days anyway. Below, you will find some tips on how I got started cooking with my boys.
Give them plenty of time and space. Before cooking a meal with my boys, I try to be realistic about how much time we will need. In the beginning, I would double the amount I thought we needed, and only cooked on days when we had no other commitments. Once I knew we wouldn’t be rushed, I gave them each their own work zone. My kitchen is a galley and I have 2 good-sized countertops separated by the stove. I put Vincent on one side and Jude on the other. The goal is to give them enough room, so they don’t get hurt.
Teach knife safety. One hand on the handle and one hand flat on top of the knife. As long as the top hand stays flat, the risk of cutting off a digit is practically nil. My kids use their knives everyday, and we have never had a kitchen accident (knocking on wood, while throwing salt over my shoulder). I find giving them big knives (like the French chef shown above) is better than smaller paring knives. If your children have no experience with knives, I would prep the ingredients slightly. For instance, slice a carrot in half lengthwise after they have peeled it. It is much easier for them to cut the carrot into semi-circles when it doesn’t roll. Same thing with a potato. (Ironically, I cut myself yesterday. I wasn’t watching what I was doing, because I was worried Vincent was going to get hurt with the microplane.)
Put them in charge of an entire meal. We started “Soup Tuesday” a few years ago. Instead of a traditional main lesson, the boys were responsible for cooking dinner which consisted of soup and bread. They would chop vegetables, brown meat and add stock. They would mix up the bread dough and knead it by hand. The soup would simmer throughout the day, and we would bake the bread right before dinner. This was such a good investment of time and energy, because now they both know what goes into putting a meal on the table.
Don’t worry about the mess. I had a rule when the boys were babies, if they played with something longer than it took to clean up, I considered it a win-win. I have the same rule in the kitchen. When they cook, they are responsible for putting away the ingredients and clearing the counter. I don’t mind loading the dishwasher and washing the dishes. However, Vincent does have an affinity for kitchen gadgets, and when he uses SIX separate utensils to make scrambled eggs, well, he does his own dishes.
Always, always have the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies on hand. Whether you are vegan, gluten-free, paleo, dairy-free or raw, find a recipe that fits your lifestyle and always, always have the ingredients available. (This is actually one of my top 10 rules for homeschooling. You can read the other nine here.) For Jude, this is a delicious chocolate chip cookie with cinnamon. He has probably made this recipe 50 times, and every batch makes him proud.
Have ingredients ready to go. Friday is our baking day. So that means after I make the coffee at 6 am, I take a pound of butter out of the refrigerator to soften. This is a great way to start the day, and honestly, there is nothing worse than wanting to make something and waiting for butter to soften. It’s like waiting for water to boil or having them ask “Are we there yet?”! If they don’t need the butter, it goes back in the fridge – no harm done.
Have a couple of kid-friendly cookbooks. I find most cookbooks geared toward children to be patronizing (“Let’s make a peanut butter sandwich, boys and girls!”), full of crappy ingredients (Sugary cereal, marshmallows and instant drink mixes are pretty standard fare.) or just plain weird (Gummy worms in pre-made pudding packs. This is a recipe?) The library is a great place to try out new cookbooks for free.
Get them their own gear. Personally I think all you really need is a good chef’s knife, a large cutting board, a vegetable peeler and an apron for each child. Having said that, we do like having our stand-mixer (and the accompanying grain grinder attachment), stoneware loaf pans and pizza pans, a large bread board, more bowls, cookie sheets and cooling racks than necessary and a really nice stove with a convection oven.
Let them develop their own style. I am not a very precise cook. I rarely use a recipe and when I do, I take the directions as mere suggestions. I comprise a meal by looking in the refrigerator and the cabinets and seeing what I can come up with. This is a very satisfying way for me to be creative. Vincent, on the other hand, likes nothing better than to troll through cooking magazines and cookbooks, find a recipe, make a list of the ingredients, see what we need to buy, go shopping and then make the recipe. In the beginning this drove me nuts. (Some days it still does!) However, I have realized that our different personalities manifest as different cooking styles – and this is okay. (Repeat. This is okay. Repeat.)
Above all, have fun. We ate some interesting meals in the beginning. This was compounded by the fact that both boys were interested in pioneer cooking at the time, thanks to Laura Ingalls and the Little House series. (Think no leavening and lots of lard.) However, we did make some good memories and fondly recall making fried salt pork and rye and injun bread – both were disgusting, but are still great for a laugh. I am under no illusion that either of my boys will grow up to become famous chefs, however, I do feel good about knowing they will never go hungry.
Read about Pizza Night and Sunday Gravy by clicking the images below.