Make a Cooking Date With Your Child

Filed under: Activities: Babies, Mealtime, Books for Kids, Cabin Fever

Cabin Fever loves to cook. And I want my children to love cooking, too. While they all know how to stir batter, eat chocolate chips off the counter and lick the bowl, I've struggled to find time to involve each of them individually in the preparation of an actual meal. Until a simple plan came to me.

I picked a date and wrote it on the calendar.

Now, each child regularly gets a turn to plan, shop for, and cook a meal with mama. We prepare this meal on the weekend, not on a school night. And Dad pitches in by entertaining the other children. The results of this experiment have been nothing short of fabulous. Some weekends prove too busy, but on less-busy Saturdays or Sundays we're sure to mark a mama-child cooking date on the calendar -- and the kids hold me to it. We rotate from oldest to youngest (and do not include the toddler; my patience has its limits).

So far, we've eaten homemade pizza, "tater" soup and roasted chicken. Twice, we've baked "secret" chocolate cake (beets!). Even the pickiest child is willing to try food she's helped to make. I plan for the meal preparation to last about two hours (much longer than the time I usually allot). We work. We talk. I listen.

And at the end of it all, we eat!
For this most recent meal, my eldest daughter goes searching through Passport on a Plate, a children's cookbook we rarely use because it isn't brightly illustrated; however, it does contain recipes from around the world, and she knows right away which country our meal will feature: Japan! Exciting! This will be a new cooking experience for me, too.

Our menu will start with miso soup (a recipe not included in the book), move on to rolled sushi, and finish with green tea ice cream. To add more veggies to the meal, I suggest including Kyushu vegetable rice.

Together, we make a grocery list, and set off to run errands. Along the way, we decide to substitute green tea ice cream (which we can't find anywhere) with mango sorbet. We ponder the varieties of miso on the shelf of our local health food store, and make a somewhat random decision together. And my daughter requests that we take a pass on the shiitake mushrooms included in the rice recipe, as she "can't stand mushrooms."

Hey, it's her meal. She gets to choose.

Back home, we set up shop. At age seven, the child has proved herself old enough and capable enough to use a sharp knife, and the privilege and novelty give her the patience to chop every single vegetable we will use in our sushi rolls. I handle anything that requires use of our gas stove. When it comes time to roll up the sushi, the girl is a pro. Because neither of us has ever attempted this before, we are on equal footing, helping each other with suggestions, and admitting ignorance and imperfection.

It is her idea to pretend that we are running a restaurant. This suggestion goes over like gang-busters with the whole hungry family (the rest of whom are waiting, not so patiently, as our meal-prep takes longer than planned).

"Welcome to our restaurant! Do you have a reservation? I'm afraid your table isn't ready quite yet. Can we tempt you with a glass of ice cold water as you wait?"

Game on.

She sets the table as I put the finishing touches on the miso soup. We gather. Will everyone try the soup?

"What's this stuff floating in here?" "It's seaweed." "Oh." Slurp. Amazing.

The sushi rolls do not taste quite as beautiful as they look, but they approach "good." The miso soup is delicious. ("It makes me feel cozy inside," says the little chef.) And the veggie rice proves extraneous. We'll have it for supper tomorrow night instead.

Finishing off with bowls of mango sorbet, we have to conclude: cooking together is some kind of awesome. And eating together is the icing on the cake (or, as the case may be, the sorbet after the sushi).

Cookbooks for children on Cabin Fever's kitchen shelf: The Toddler Cookbook and Mom and Me Cookbook, both by Annabel Karmel; Honest Pretzels, by Mollie Katzen; Eat it Up! by Elisabeth de Mariaffi; Simply in Season Children's Cookbook, by Mark Beach and Julie Kauffman; and Passport on a Plate, by Diane Simone Vezza.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.