Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Cooking with my Kids

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Today's supper- planned by the kids,
as well as partially made by them.
If you haven't guessed already, I really love cooking. (Which is probably why my blog, with the official goal of being a money saving blog, is probably more than 1/4 a cooking blog.) My husband, on the other hand... his cooking is mainly limited to cooking eggs and pouring himself a bowl of cereal.
I feel that being able to cook, and being a good cook, is such a benefit and useful skill in life. Not only does it help me be able to serve good food that is healthy and doesn't cost too much to my family, it also is a great and frugal way for me to express my creativity. I consider cooking an art form, and a super useful hobby.
Already when I was little, I used to cook with my mother. I was her official "taste tester", and by the time I was 11 or so, I was the designated soup seasoner- she'd make the basics, but then would leave the seasoning up to me.
I so appreciated being involved in the kitchen prep growing up, and see how it has benefited me so much in life. Therefore, it is something that I do with my kids, already from a young age.

When my kids are very little, and I have energy for cleaning up a little bit of extra mess, when making something "fun" like cake or cookies, I either let them dump the filled measuring cups into the bowls, or even fill them (with my help, if they're extra little), then dump them in, and then mix it and shape it.

But then once they get older, I sometimes let them cook "entirely on their own".
Well, not entirely.

I actually use it as a "homeschooling opportunity". Before they're able to read (well), I take down the necessary ingredients, set them on the table along with the measuring utensils, etc... and then draw pictorial recipes for the kids, which they then follow on their own (while I look on). For example, I will draw two measuring spoons marked 1 TBSP on them and then a picture of the bag of sugar, for them to figure out that it is 2 tablespoons of sugar.
Once they're able to read, I write out the recipe in the simplest of terms, and then they follow it on their own, without my help (unless they get stuck).

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We practice reading this way and math (fractions mainly), in addition to learning valuable kitchen skills.

I also give them a knife and a cutting board and peeler, and teach them how to use a knife safely, and let them practice cutting vegetables, etc... with my supervision.

But that is just "beginner" stuff.

Now we have moved on to "harder stuff", which, in my opinion, is more fun, and where the truly useful "skills" are learned, and creativity comes to play. Experimenting in the kitchen.

When I'm cooking food, I often call them over and ask them to taste what I made, and tell me what they think it needs more of- more salt, garlic, cumin, etc... and then I add it. If I think that it will taste ok. If I think it'll taste bad, I might say "I'm not so sure that will taste so good"... That's "beginner experimentation" in the kitchen.

Now that my kids have become more experienced in figuring out what flavors work well together, and how much to add of different ingredients, etc... I actually let them do the experimenting entirely on their own.

Today, for example, they wanted a salad for supper.
Actually, they planned the entire menu. Hot dogs cooked together with eggs, rice, and a tomato cucumber salad.
After they chopped up the salad, I asked them if they wanted to make the salad dressing themselves.
They did.
They asked me for suggestions of what could go in salad dressings- I started listing off the top of my head things that I sometimes put in salad dressing: "oil, lemon juice, vinegar, ketchup, mustard, honey, salt, pepper, garlic, etc..." and then asked which they wanted to use.

"Ketchup, mustard, lemon juice, and honey" they decided, and I suggested adding some oil as well.

I put them all on the table, gave them a container, and let them mix and match until they got something they liked. After taste testing and adjusting it many times, they decided to add salt and garlic powder as well.

They loved the salad dressing and were so proud of what they came up with. "Right Daddy will like the salad dressing when he comes home? Right it is yummy? This is the best day ever! This really tastes delicious!"

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It really is fun to experiment like this with them.
And of course, I'm watching over them in the background, ready to offer suggestions if they seem to need them, but they're taking initiative on their own, and don't really need my input. They're great at it already.

In fact- sometimes when I'm uninspired in the kitchen, I ask my kids for suggestions of foods to make, and how I should make them, and they come up with great ideas.

When I make chicken, that's usually when I do the most experimenting- since chicken doesn't "come out wrong"- or at least its very hard to flop chicken.

So I ask my 7 year old what he thinks I should put on the chicken, and he goes over to my spice drawer and pulls out a bunch of spices, plus some stuff from the kitchen, and then I put them on.
I think next time I'll leave it to him to put them on, not just pick out the seasonings... I'll just salt it myself (because that is hard to get right when you're first starting out, and doing it incorrectly can ruin the food).

Another bonus- if your kids are somewhat picky eaters- when they plan and/or make the food on their own, they're more likely to actually eat it and enjoy it, because it was their creation.

I really can't wait for when my kids are old enough to really be able to cook entirely on their own, from start to finish, with no input from me at all. I see how happy even being able to make a salad dressing entirely on their own made them- I can just imagine how confident and accomplished they'd feel being able to cook a whole meal on their own.

I have a dream book for my kids, in which I write down my kids dreams for the future, whenever they tell me "When I grow up I want to..." along with the date.

Today's entry in Lee's book:
"When I grow up I want to make foods with secret recipes and if they're good, sell them. Then I can have money and buy all sorts of weird stuff from the grocery store."

Following in my footsteps, it seems.

Next mission- convince Mike to do some cooking with me.

When you were a kid did you help in the kitchen or stay out of it? Do you include your kids in the kitchen now? How do you involve them in the kitchen? How old are they? 
Do you have any other suggestions of things I should give my kids to experiment with, other than salad dressings and chicken?


  1. LOL, that's great what you do with your kids! I really like the idea of using picture recipes, and I might just steal it when kidlet is able to follow directions.

    I sometimes let kidlet help out in the kitchen, but he's not that great at following directions just yet. I let him mix dry ingredients when I'm baking, use the salad spinner, and dump things from one container into another. Eventually I'll start letting him do more and more, but for now, that seems to be all he can handle

  2. Loved this post and laughed out loud at your son's dream. You know, in a good way.

  3. shoshana kleimanMay 7, 2015 at 6:08 PM

    kids can cook! My son was coking eggs and pancakes by the time he was 5. Great teaching tool.

  4. What a great post! Good for your kids. Good for you!

  5. Brilliant, you are doing your kids such a great service by letting them experiment and teaching them how to cook. I love cooking, but I only learnt as an adult as my mother never included us when cooking. I was taught by my room mate! My oldest is two and we bake together a lot, and she will help me stir, or put things into pots etc. She loves it.

  6. Nice article! My 10-year-old enjoys cooking and sometimes makes up recipes. He likes to pretend our house is a restaurant--which improves his manners as well as his acceptance of the food we're serving, which becomes "tonight's special". Together we've developed a signature dish for his restaurant, based on his own idea of what he wanted to eat.

    Fruit sauce is a great type of food for experimentation: Just throw in all your odds and ends of not-so-fresh fruit, start cooking on low heat, consider adding some frozen or canned or dried fruit, and as the flavors begin to blend, taste it and see if it needs sweetening or seasoning. Serve over yogurt, pancakes, etc. or just as a side dish like applesauce.

    My mom is a great cook and prone to experimentation. She often involved me, so I learned early on that many things can be made from scratch, that we don't always have to measure precisely but just keep proportions in mind, and that some ingredients can substitute for others.

    The summer I was 9 and my brother was 6, my mom put us in charge of making lunch. We took turns deciding what to make and preparing it for everyone; I think Mom was nearby, but she didn't hover. It was mostly easy stuff like sandwiches, mac-n-cheese, or salads, but still involved planning and timing and physical skills like opening packages and cutting ingredients and stirring without letting it stick to the bottom. We felt very competent. Great experience. By the time Mom took a job that involved traveling for a week at a stretch, when I was 12, my brother and I could cook dozens of different meals including some things "from scratch". This was crucial because my dad had never learned to cook anything but grilled cheese sandwiches and canned foods heated up--his parents wouldn't let him in the kitchen because they were afraid he'd become a "sissy"!

    1. I LOVE your restaurant idea and the "tonight's special" touch! Great way to get kids in the kitchen as well as teach them a plethora of other real life skills!


  7. My 8 year old loves to help cooking and sometimes I let her make something from scratch, without my help. I think they are much more capable than we think. My 5 year old, still helps with the cleaning up AKA licking the spoons ;-)

    PS: My kids recently setup a dream board, and it gives me a good idea what they are thinking. Sometimes that information is a little hard to extract from them.

  8. I write out recipes for the kids as math problems: 6-4= cups of sugar (for example) - but only for whole numbers at the moment. I've also done 1/4 tbsp ba_in_ pow___...and made them think and fill in the blanks/spell.


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