Tonight, walking through my dining room, I stepped on and crushed a Cheerio under my bare foot. I dropped into a nearby chair to dust off my foot and landed on a Lego creation. Before I knew it, I was wishing away these days of having small children in my house. Some days I let the pressure of being so…needed get to me. Every step of my children’s days requires something of me. I fix meals, I dress them, I bathe them, I read to them, I clean up after them, I hold them when they cry, I rock them to sleep, I listen their plans and I goosh over their creations – and the list goes on and on. There are times when I long to read a book, have a telephone conversation with a friend or have time to straighten my hair. It never fails, though– as soon as I let these thoughts slip through my mind, I regret it. I know with every bit of who I am that as soon as these Cheerio-squishing days are over, I will miss them. One day they will no longer crawl into my lap for a story. One day they will no longer need me to button their buttons. One day they’ll grow up… and I will long for them to be small again. These are the days to cherish, no matter what difficulties they may hold. Even the most trying days are full of more joy that I can hold.
One of the great things about young children is their interest in anything you are doing. Adults tasks are incredible to them. And, because we do them with such ease, we are superheroes in their minds. Their little brains are like sponges, seeing and experiencing so many things for the first time. Everything is amazing and full of wonder. Though my 9 month-old son Evan is not quite ready to wield a spoon yet, he’s often perched in his booster seat right beside me, watching as I cook. My 4 year-old son Carter is measuring, cracking eggs, pouring and stirring. He’s ever helpful in the kitchen.
I recently picked up a copy of Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook My Father’s Daughter. Not only is this a beautiful collection of simple and healthful recipes, it’s also a celebration of family togetherness. The book is as enjoyable to read as it is to cook from. She recounts moments from her childhood that have shaped who she is today, many of those cooking aside her father as a girl. She notes when there are appropriate moments for children to participate in the preparation of a meal and she suggests ways to adapt the more “grown up” dishes to fit the tastes of children. I love this.
This quote from the book sums up her perspective on cooking. It makes me smile.
Invest in what’s real. Clean as you go. Drink while you cook. Make it fun. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It will be what it will be.
Here are her tips on the best tasks to get your child involved in cooking with you.
- Turn the pepper grinder.
- Add pinches of salt and other spices.
- Stir batters and doughs in mixing bowls.
- Spread butter on toast.
- Grease cake pans.
- Line muffin tins.
- Crack eggs.
- Whisk dressings.
- Press the start button on appliances. (with supervision)
- Add items to a blender, mixing bowl, etc.
- Level off flour, sugar, etc.
- Crush garlic in a press. (watch their fingers!)
And, to include them in the process of planning
- Go to the farmer’s market or supermarket together. Make the lists together from recipes and give them their own basket.
- Make a kitchen garden. Plant veggies and herbs, water them, check their growth with a ruler.
- Talk about the seasonality of the food, why and how things grow in different temperatures. Make a list and talk about appealing ways to cook them. Find recipes.
- Make treats from scratch. The homemade version will always trump the a store-bought variety.
- Expose your kids to the flavors of other countries and other cultures. Do research together, make a menu plan and cook with a theme.
- Have your kids measure out ingredients. Give a 1/3 cup and ask how many it takes to make the 1 cup that is needed.
I believe it is the fact that I am carefully letting them do things that seem beyond their level that keeps them so interested. I regularly think of some parenting advice my father gave me on one occasion. His theory was that children positively respond to being trusted with something that they don’t expect you to trust them with. And when they are trusted and complete something successfully, not only is their self-esteem buoyed but so is the connection between parent and child.