Q: Wow, Dale cooks. How did you do that?
How do you cultivate the joy of cooking? How do you teach your kid to cook so they keep on cooking?
I get this question a lot. Especially from folks who have seen Dale happily take a turn cooking at a gathering, hosting a dinner party, or posting a photo of something he just cooked.
Parents of teens, especially teen boys, or new parents thinking ahead, often ask what did you do? What can I do?
A: Have fun and get creative with cooking. Establish the routine of cooking together. Make it delicious, joyful and heartfelt.
Mealtimes offer daily powerful times to connect. Meals can become a celebration of everyday life and opportunity for expressing gratitude. You can choose to make sharing meals and meal preparation and adventure.
Meals made with love and laughter and fresh ingredients taste better.
How and when did we start to cultivate the joy of cooking?
As soon as Dale was born, he was worn in the snugli or perched beside us when we cooked. Even though he was too young to actively participate, I chatted about the food, tastes and smells. I talked about how delicious it would be, and how much daddy, or guests, would love the meal.
Cooking to Start the Day with Good Cheer
Dale’s internal alarm clock went off around 4:30 am. It was cold and dark. We were trying to let Daddy get a little more sleep before heading off to work, so what could we do? We cooked breakfast.
We baked to warm up the house and to create something delicious and beautiful.
We figured out what to make with the ingredients on hand in the amount of time we had so that Pierre would be able to eat before driving off to work. We met the challenge of doing everything quietly in our open, echoing kitchen. We experimented and set the table to make it beautiful.
I know you’re thinking, she’s crazy! Table decoration at the crack of dawn?
Because, when you are a sleep-deprived, grumpy mama who does not want to poison the atmosphere and ruin the day by complaining, if you focus on making love visible and getting the creative juices flowing, you can often flip the switch from grumpy to gratitude.
Instead of grumbling I could be grateful for:
- quality time together to connect.
- quiet moments to share my love and values with my child.
- a roof over our heads, a working oven, and food on the table.
- my ability to choose to enjoy a cooking adventure
Cooking and Creativity: Inventing, Improvising, and Problem Solving
First we turned on the oven. Then we grabbed a cookbook, or two, and snuggled on the couch. What should we make?
We would turn the pages looking for inspiration. We used recipes not as a formula, but as a starting point for creating and improvising.
Once we had an idea we moved back into the kitchen. We put on our aprons, I love aprons, and set out the ingredients. If we were missing something we talked about how to compensate. Sometimes we just wanted to experiment – how about if we add _______? What will happen if we _____________? We are out of eggs, what can we use instead? What do you think? Let’s see!
Dale either sat on the counter or stood beside me on a stool. He loved dipping into the flour jar with the measuring cups and pouring the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Managing the measuring spoons was trickier, trying to get just the right amount of baking powder in the spoon and smoothing it off with a dull knife. Often we got too much of something in the bowl, no big deal. If I was really concerned about a recipe being exact, then I had Dale measure into a smaller container first, before adding the ingredient to the main bowl. Stressing about exact amounts and mess can spoil the camaraderie which is just not worth it.
Stirring, pounding, rolling, greasing the pans, getting the dough into the muffin tins or cutting the scones to size were all things a child can do.
Was it messy? Yes.
Could I have done it faster by myself? Yes.
Did that matter? No.
What mattered was learning that you can have fun making your own food and food for someone you love.
We slid the pans into the oven. “Is it time to wake Daddy?”
“Not yet. Let’s get the table ready. Hmm, how do we want to make it look today?” A potential “lesson” in creating atmosphere and ambience.
If it was a holiday, well, then we went with whatever the special day was. We found or made something to decorate the center of the table and then choose which dishes, napkins or glasses to use according to our mood and design. Just for clarification, it’s not that we had lots of different sets of dishes, just that we had an eclectic collection of crockery found in thrift stores or received as wedding gifts.
We squeezed juice from our oranges and put it into fancy wine glasses. Or we made hot cocoa and used the crockery mugs.
If it was summer, and there was a hint of light we went into the yard to gather a bouquet or berries if they were ripe.
We tried to make our world even more beautiful than it already was.
“MMMMM’ smells good. Now it’s time to wake Daddy!” We put the butter, homemade jam, and other supplies on the table. By now our mouths were watering.
Once everything was one the table and we were sitting together, we sometimes took a moment for a blessing or to give thanks. We toasted with our juice or mugs: Cheers! Here is to a wonderful day.
After we ate, we all cleared our places and got to work. Pierre made his lunch and headed out the door. Dale and I put on the tunes danced as we cleaned up our cooking mess.
This is how our cooking together started. It wasn’t just breakfast and it wasn’t always ceremonial, but it was always a celebration of creativity, sustenance, and love.
7 Ideas to Help You Raise a Kid Who Cooks
Cooking is a creative process. And creativity is often improved with constraints. We had the constant constraints of our budget and what was ripe in the garden to fuel our inventiveness.
What else can you do to help?
1. Play with your food! Be silly with the food on the plates, food as table decorations and presentation.
2. Have contests and games to see how many new ways you can cook a __________.
3. Use cook books and recipes as ideas starters rather than missals that had to be followed exactly. Invent new recipes name them, and write them down.
4. Check out new cookbooks from the library for inspiration.
5. Try new foods, flavors and recipes from different cultures.
6. Let kids cook with you and learn new cooking skills together.
7. Let kids cook and create on their own.
One year my mom gave us a subscription to Family Fun Magazine. A monthly column, called “Kids Cooking Class”, was set up for the child to independently follow the directions and learn how to cook meals. One time it had a recipe for calzones, another time crepes, another time Chinese Beef. Dale looked forward to trying each new recipe and his confidence with cooking soared. He eagerly awaited the magazine and turned directly to the Kid’s Cooking Class recipe. Then he would check for ingredients and make a shopping list. I had to remind myself not to interfere, and let him do it himself.
Pierre usually took over cooking on camping trips, took over the BBQ and was always part of preparing meals for holidays and guests. So Dale had plenty of time to cook with Dad, too.
In fifth grade, Dale was responsible for preparing one dinner a week. He decided what he wanted to make and took care of the process from start to finish. On Sunday evenings we talked about our schedule for the week, and roughly planned out the meals. Everyone had a chance to offer suggestions or hankerings. We tried not to get in too much of a rut. Dale cooked on the night that was best for him, the crock pot meal was slotted on the busiest day, and leftover party was near the end of the week. Planning included checking for ingredients so shopping could happen once. I am not a fan of extra trips to the store.
Dale often made his favorite, homemade macaroni and cheese with 3 cheeses, with sides of tomatoes, broccoli and salad. This recipe is still a hit and what we all consider comfort food.
Dale loved socializing, and food was always the centerpiece of gatherings with friends or family. We typically cooked our own meals for holiday celebrations, casually inviting people to dinner, and even for our wedding and large anniversary parties. Figuring out affordable, delicious, sanity saving food prep for more than 100 was another creative cooking challenge.
- Cooking together on a daily basis was a habit that helped our budget and provided connection and a jumping off point for many areas of learning.
- Raising a young adult who cooks started with spreading the joy of sharing and preparing meals for those you love, and continued by forming the habit of cooking.
- Let the kids cook. Don’t stress about mess or mistakes.
- Make it a habit and make it fun. Enjoy the whole experience because meals made with love and laughter and fresh ingredients taste better.
Do you cook with your kids? Do you have favorite blogs, books or resources you use for cooking?
I would love to hear your ideas to add to the list in the comments, Lisa.
Resources for Cooking with Kids:
Cookbooks We Loved:
Williams Sonoma, Holiday Cooking with Kids
Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at home by the Moosewood Collective
Celebrate by Sheila Lukins
195 Recipes From Every Country In The World – 195 Signature Dishes – Julie Hatfield
Websites new to me that look great:
CookSmarts. com with printable infographics and video tutorials
Here is the page with infographics http://www.cooksmarts.com/cooking-school-101/printable-cooking-infographics/