A week ago, the headline of an article, shared by a good friend on Facebook, caught my eye. It read: It’s More Important To Teach Your Kids To Cook Than To Play Soccer.
The article was somewhat disappointing though. It was more of an opinion piece than a news item. I know I sound like a hypocrite writing a column and complaining about someone else’s op ed. But the headline was clickbait-y; it read like it was going to present real empirical evidence but the story didn't.
The piece was just 230-word long and it stated shock at the recently released statistics that for the first time, the average American family spends more money in restaurants than they do in the grocery stores. The author contended that cooking should be an essential life skill. Soccer was just a convenient scapegoat as it was pointed out that many (American) kids are leaving home adept at sports but lacking what was once tantamount to your survival.
Cooking with your kids is a great way to test your own patience while hopefully teaching them some valuable life skills.
My wife and I are both foodies (I know, that’s an obvious statement). Since we became parents almost eight years ago, it’s been important for us that the kids were familiar with the kitchen.
When they were babies, we’d place T1 and T2 in their baby chairs and keep them next to us as we cooked. And far too often, we’d be giving our little ones a running commentary, providing them with their own personal food shows, whether they liked it or not.
We still do that with T3, who at 10 months, can now yell out to interrupt our culinary monologues. I do get a sense when he’s particularly loud and insistent – straining against the straps that hold him to his chair, with his arms held up high – he’s trying to tell me to “shut up already, stop cooking and pick me up for a cuddle”.
As T1 and T2 have grown, we’ve tried introducing cooking together as a fun family activity. That works sometimes but not always. Especially not with T1 anymore. He will only get involved if he sees immediate benefits – and if he’s allowed to put his own spin on whatever it is we’re preparing.
For example, while he loves ham sandwiches, he won’t be interested to help make an ordinary one. But if we tell him he can do whatever he wants, then, with a gleam in his eye that makes me think of Calvin (from Calvin & Hobbes), he’ll take out mama’s cookie cutters and make himself dinosaur-shaped canape sandwiches, which he’ll proudly ask us to photograph for social media sharing (not that we ever have).
No matter how much he loves milkshakes, he’ll shake his head and wait patiently for his portion if I ask him to help make one. But if I ask him if he wants to teach me how to make a “smooth-shake”, his eyes would light up and he'd jump up right away.
A smooth-shake, by the way, is his innovation; halfway between a smoothie and a milkshake. It’s his preferred blend of fresh fruits, ice cubes, yogurt, ice cream and a splash of milk. He’s even created illustrated instructions for us to refer to if he’s feeling too tired to direct the process. Basically, our almost-eight-year-old has perfected the art of being a hands-off, creative yet dictatorial consultant chef (I know a few of those actually).
Because when the flour hits the floor, or the chocolate ganache lands on the window shade (the culinary equivalent of poop hitting the fan), you have to control your emotions and make sure your kid knows everything’s fine, that any mess can be cleaned up.
Back when I did have higher aspirations for my son’s kitchen prowess, my wife and I purchased him his first knife. Now, gifting anything sharp and shiny to a six-year-old may seem like a recipe for disaster, but we’ve monitored his access to the knife very carefully over the past two years. We’ve taught him very carefully when it is appropriate to use it, and most importantly, how to use it.
It helps that we also found a knife that appealed to him tremendously, a Brisa Bonita children’s knife by the Japanese knife company Tojiro. The Brisa Bonita line is awesome. The tip of the knife is rounded and the majority of the blade is covered with little cartoon animals, making the knife actually very cute. The size and weight is perfect for small kids. The little yellow handle fits perfectly in his hand. But make no mistake. This is a real and very sharp knife, not a toy, despite its cuteness. But, if you’re looking for a first knife for your little one, I highly recommend it.
T2, in contrast to her older brother, has been a very attentive kitchen elf. She loves putting on her little red apron and climbing up on her little Toddler Tower and helping us out. Speaking of that, I want to give a huge shout out to Elena Ho, the designer behind Busy Boardies.
Her Toddler Tower – a height-adjustable tower for kids – has completely changed the way our daughter is able to interact with us in the kitchen. She’s now able to work comfortably at our kitchen counter on the same level with us. The sheer joy in her face when mama first set it up for her made the purchase well worth it. And it continues to pay off every time she uses it (which is pretty much daily).
T2 loves helping me measure out ingredients for pizza dough, stir slow-braised stews, and generally assembling the many wonderful things we eat at home. But I think she most loves the quality time that cooking with one of us affords her. And, as is the case with most mothers and daughters, she loves cooking with her mama.
What I find amusing is how she’ll also take our instructions, process them, and then reinterpret them, declaring: “Mama (or Papa), you have to do it this way.” During a recent cooking session, she “taught” her mother the proper way to make granola. In her words, “bottom to top, stir, stir, stir.” This, she explained, was the best way to ensure that all the ingredients were dispersed evenly.
Cooking with your kids is a great way to test your own patience while hopefully teaching them some valuable life skills. Friends who know me well know I hate having people in the kitchen with me when I’m cooking. I’m a control freak with OCD-ish tendencies.
Cooking with T2, or doing whatever T1 tells me to do in the kitchen, has taught me a new level of patience. Because when the flour hits the floor, or the chocolate ganache lands on the window shade (the culinary equivalent of poop hitting the fan), you have to control your emotions and make sure your kid knows everything’s fine, that any mess can be cleaned up.
And that calmness in the face of chaos is another good thing to silently impart to your little ones.
Chubby Hubby, Portly Papa is a regular column about adventures in fatherhood from Aun Koh.