Monday, February 25, 2008

The Loveliness of Cooking With Kids

Marianne is hosting the Loveliness of One-on-One fair about spending time with our children, one at a time. I had actually forgotten about the fair, but providentially began this post today. If you want to see what some of our meals look like, you can check some of these earlier posts.

Lately my posting makes it look like I do a lot of cooking with my kids. Fooled you! We had three meals in November, but didn't really start up again until February. The idea (ideal?) is to have each homeschooler plan and prepare a meal (usually dinner) monthly. I'm hoping we're back on the bandwagon and will keep going now. Here follow some random thoughts on how this works for us.

Life is usually too busy now for a weeknight meal, so step one is putting a date on the calendar, and that is almost always on a weekend.

Next comes the menu planning, and they are allowed to use some school time for this, but of course a child in regular school could do this with some free time. We sometimes make familiar dishes (after all, they don't know how to cook them yet), but they all prefer browsing through cookbooks for ideas.

We own a few children's cookbooks, but I get most from the library. At our branch, the juvenile nonfiction is mixed in with the adult (Dewey decimal 641 or 641.5), so I just walk by the shelves grabbing the ones with a "J" above the call number. As you browse you'll find many that suit your family. Current favorites include cookbooks by Emeril Lagasse. I haven't seen his show (apparently he's over the top!), but his children's books are great. The food is interesting and real, and the instructions are fine. As I mentioned last night, we sometimes edit for sugar, fat, or salt. I still remember a sweet potato casserole that was sweet enough for dessert even after removing much sugar and butter and all the marshmallows! So far we've used There's a Chef in My Soup! and There's a Chef in My World!, and apparently there are others.

The child chef and I review ideas and settle on a menu. This is the beginning of the educational side, because we cover some nutrition and basic menu planning (example: ham and sweet potatoes and canned fruit salad and bread and dessert and a sweet drink do not make a good meal). We also cover looks and flavors. Does the plate need something green or colorful? Are the flavors likely to go together? Are there too many difficult dishes to actually pull off? How will it be to serve (soup and salad and applesauce makes for many bowls)? You get the idea.

Once the menu is set, I go over the recipes, adding necessities to the grocery list. Sometimes the children help, and it would be educational for them to do it all, but it's just not practical for me. I know what we have on hand already, for one thing. I think I'll try to start involving them more in this step.

If we can, we do some prep the day or two before. When Daniel made ice cream, we cooked the custard base a day ahead. Joe is making dinner tonight, so last night we made his Swiss pasta sauce and put together the dry ingredients for the gingerbread.

Actually cooking is of course the heart of this activity, and I try to let the children do as much as they can. It takes a very conscious holding back/patience to let someone slower do something I'm very experienced at. I think this is what holds a lot of us back, but the rewards are great. These meals take a lot of time to prepare because the cooks are slower and also because they are more elaborate than a typical family dinner.

I have several different ways of interacting during cooking, tailored to the child, the recipe, and the time available. We read through all the steps together, then begin. I usually direct, especially if I change the way a dish goes together. The child chef may get training and then supervision of new skills--cutting, wisking, measuring, scraping, kneading, etc. Sometimes they can do a lot on their own, and I'm just the assistant--gathering ingredients, washing dishes and the counter, putting things away. Last night Joe browned the frozen pork by himself while I made plane reservations online. Then he gathered and measured for the gingerbread while I washed and tidied. Today we worked together.

Another perk of cooking a special meal is that the guest chef may invite a friend over to eat, and sometimes to help cook, too. Someone usually asks, but cooking doesn't get them out of their after-dinner chores. After all, I cook and help clean up on all the other days! ;-)

1 comment:

Marianne said...


I'd love to link this post up for the fair.