Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cooking with Kids

David Hammond's recent LTH forum piece about taking kids to restaurants got me thinking about kids and cooking. I try and include my son Henry in the cooking process whenever possible. Besides being something I'm actively engaged in for a decent chunk of time each week, it's something for him to get interested in and excited about. Plus, he's learning about food.

The theory is, I guess, that kids who start cooking early with their parents and become a part of the process will begin to embrace a larger awareness of how food arrives at their plate or what things look like before they're packaged into cardboard and plastic wrap in the grocery store. I could probably launch into a whole dissertation about foods and foodways, how today's consumers lack knowledge about the "farm-to-table" process, and, specifically, all the heavy industry and processing that lays between.

But I won't. Because that's not why I cook with my kid. Mainly I do it because it's fun and it's a good opportunity for us to do stuff together, especially in the winter when going outside and doing stuff is more difficult.

And while I don't actively push the whole "slow food" mindset when I cook with Henry, who's pictured above (that's a chef dress up costume--I don't make him dress like that when we cook), it seeps in, I think. This morning we finished up the granola for breakfast, and he said "granola's all gone...I guess we need to make some more."

Get that? Make some more. Not buy. Make. I like that he assumes that the stuff we eat in a bowl with milk in the morning is something we make. That's big, I think.

He's pretty curious about why we put various ingredients into what we're cooking. He knows what sugar's all about by now, and he likes to crack the eggs and mix. Half of any chocolate, nuts, or cheese that we might be using go straight into his mouth, of course, and sometimes it seems like he's not really paying attention. But I'm amazed at how much information creeps in. Today, apropos of nothing, he says "Corn starch. Daddy, we use corn starch to make things thick."

Uh...yeah. We do. You nailed it, kid. And, to be honest, I'm wondering how many adults with basic cooking skills could enunciate the purpose of corn starch as clearly.

There are negatives, of course. It's much slower going with the kid asking questions constantly and wanting to do everything himself. You'll have to deal with the inevitable battle over washing hands before you start. Thomas trains will be required to occupy their rightful place of honor on the counter. Because "Percy wants to see".

But these are very small concessions to make in exchange for having a kid who's engaged and interested in learning about where food comes from and how it's prepared.

And today's a shut-in day for us here in the Chicago area. The forecast calls for "blizzard-like conditions" and the temperature is supposed to drop sharply, with single digit temps and double digit negative windchills. So as I sit and write this entry, I'm trying to figure out how to keep Henry from going stir crazy and what we should cook.

Any suggestions?


Anonymous said...

Hello. Just found this article about eating healthy
and Resturants. Great tips on how to stay thin and
healthy even tho you want to eat out more.
Hope this helps anyone who eats out alot.


Maggie said...

My son Alex cooks with me all the time. He's a big experimenter and rarely agrees to recipes so I let him make mini creations of his own. Surprisingly enough sometimes they work out. I do drum in the basics: chefs taste their food constantly, keeping your work area tidy, smelling to see if things are done, etc. It amuses me tremendously to snap at him "Keep your station clean!" in Colette's voice from Ratatouille. Our favorite thing to make is cookies.