I grew up in the woods and in the kitchen. Outside, I explored new trails, built club houses and climbed over every interesting surface. Inside, I explored new tastes, learned to use new tools and covered every surface in flour. My love of adventure and cooking overlapped, until I was exploring inside as much as I was outside.
As a young mom, I knew I wanted to share this sense of wonder with my son. I also knew that I wanted to continue growing as a cook. It wouldn’t work for me to have a picky eater. But, I was determined to give my son the best nutritional foundation. That meant no caffeine, no junk food and as little processed food as possible. What this gave me was a son who at 18 still doesn’t drink soda pop and can lecture others on the importance of a well balanced meal. (Read his petition against French Fries as a Vegetable in Schools) Great now, but at six years old, this parenting gave me a picky eater who even turned down pizza. I recognized the need to correct my parenting. Here’s how I taught my son to cook and opened the door for an adventurous, sensible epicurean .
Give them authority
To get kids excited about trying new foods I read an article that suggested letting them choose a new food and incorporate it into a meal. So, off to Trader Joe’s we went. I braced myself for this mission certain that we would return with star fruit, pistachio ice cream and some kind of meat in a tube. Fortunately, I was able to steer him to the wide array of exotic cheeses and my White Mac n’ Cheese was born. Although later, we did try pistachio ice cream and it was ahhhmazing!
Giving him choices and the authority to influence what he was eating instilled him with confidence. Now, he’s outpacing me with tales of trying escargot and a taste for sashimi sushi. He’s come a long way from turning down pizza.
Give them room
Patience is a given when doing anything with new learners. What we often overlook is the need for children to have additional space. But nowhere is space more valuable than in the kitchen. Specifically, counter space. But, it’s worth it. Clear an area for them to work, give them tools and, if small enough, stand them on a stool or chair. Everyone will be happier this way. They won’t be stumbling under your feet and you won’t be shuffling them around. Kids crave boundaries. Misbehavior is a testing of those boundaries. Fail to give them structure and they will run wild. Fail to give them freedom to move and they will rebel against you. Test this in the kitchen, if you don’t believe me. Get it wrong and everyone winds up crying.
Give them a task
Everyone likes to feel needed. So, assign your little sous chef a task. The key is: DO NOT take the task away from them. Obviously, give them something they can manage, like stirring batter or adding pre-measured ingredients. But if you give them a task, expect them to complete it. Taking it away undermines their confidence and nothing stunts growth faster than self-doubt.
Give them the spoon
Finally, if you want to encourage kids to cook, start by encouraging them to taste. Treating food as an experience opens the door to a richness of life. Enjoy your kids, enjoy cooking and enjoy life. Time is precious, don’t let it slip away. Kids don’t stay kids forever.