Expert Tips for Getting Kids Involved in the Kitchen
"You don't need to be an expert to cook," Elisabeth de Mariaffi tells Cabin Fever. Elisabeth is the author of Eat It Up!, a colourful and practical new cookbook for children, and she's just the person to reassure a harried and hopeful parent that cooking and baking with the help of pint-sized chefs can become an everyday experience. (Make that a fun everyday experience!)
Please, Elisabeth, tell us more...
Q: What inspired you to write a cookbook for children?
A: In our house, the kitchen has always been the family room. It's common to find all of us around the table, working away on different projects -- me on my laptop, the kids busy with homework or crafts -- so it felt really natural to involve them in cooking from an early age.
It's important to think about cooking as a pleasure: something you can do on your own, or as a social activity.
Cooking is about creating; it's about science; it's artful. It's about making something nourishing and learning how to give your body the energy it needs. It's about sharing something you've made with others.
Q: Why is it important for our children to participate in the kitchen?A: I cook with my children because cooking is something that happens in the house, every day. Why not do it together? Part of what's important is demystifying the process. You don't need to be an expert to cook. You can cook without turning on the stove. You can cook with three ingredients.
Q: In theory, I'd like my children to participate in mealtime planning and preparation. But in practice, when I'm making a meal, I'm often in a hurry and just want to get it done. What are some easy and creative ways to get children helping in the kitchen?
A: You can get your kids started from a very early age -- children as young as two or three can tear lettuce for a salad. But you do need to choose your moments. On a night when you have 45 minutes to make dinner, eat it, clean up and be out the door for swimming lessons, getting your kids involved in meal preparation can be a hassle.
I like to apply the "chef's apprentice" model for getting kids into cooking. Even young children can have responsibilities like setting the table, folding napkins, or pouring milk into glasses. Or give them legal-sized paper and crayons and ask them to make placemats while you cook.
The most important thing is for all of you to enjoy being in the kitchen together.
Q: Okay, let's say I've got a bit of extra time to spare. What are some specific kitchen tasks my children (ages eight, seven, and four) could do?
A: On a night when you have more time, children can be given all kinds of prep jobs: grating cheese, measuring out rice or pasta for cooking, or counting out grape tomatoes for the salad. It's more fun if the salad needs 18 grape tomatoes and 14 slices of cucumber, for instance. Older children can follow a simple recipe and mix up the salad dressing, or use a basic mix to stir together cornbread batter and grease the baking pan.
If you're planning to make a meal with your child, add half an hour to your imagined preparation time: this little mind trick will save you becoming impatient. Let your child pick the recipe(s) and shop together for ingredients. It's easy to get so rushed that we lose our connection between the food we buy and the food we serve. Kids don't always make the connection.
Follow the recipe(s) together, step-by-step, and decide in advance who will take on which tasks. As a parent, you might say: "I'll do any chopping that requires a sharp knife, and I'll be in charge of taking things out of the hot oven, but you can do everything else." If everyone has the same expectations, you're more likely to have a good time together.
Eat It Up! is published by Owlkids, and is available now in bookstores everywhere.
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