Thursday, April 01, 2010
How child-friendly is your kitchen?
By child-friendly, I am not referring to filling the cupboards full of toys, or hiding all the knives. I am talking about welcoming your children into the world of food preparation, and inviting them to be a part of all the sights and aromas.
So often, our culture relegates children to the "safe" play areas while adults hurriedly complete the now mundane tasks of making dinner. And yet, there are few things more natural and satisfying than slowing down and including children in the creative process of meal preparation.
Even very young children, three and four years old, can wash lettuce, dump pre-measured ingredients into a bowl, stir batter, and grease pans.
As they get a little older, teach them how to slice fruits or vegetables using knives, carefully stir hot things on the stove, roll out dough, and preheat the oven.
While all my children are welcome in the kitchen, each week one child is assigned specifically to be my helper, beginning around age seven. This is when they receive one on one instruction. I do not set aside extra time in my day to show them how to make one thing from a recipe. Instead, almost every weekday evening, they assist me in creating an entire meal, from start to finish.
This is an important point, because knowing how to make just one dish is quite different from the ability to prepare a full dinner. Seeing and being a part of the the process repeatedly, they slowly become accustomed to knowing how all the parts work together; that the roast needs to go in way ahead of time, when to begin steaming the vegetables, and allowing enough time for the rolls to rise.
Several things can be happening at once; food in the oven, food on the stove, food being chopped, stir the gravy, check the chicken, check the rice, whoops we're out of this ingredient so we'll have to use this instead, how about if we add this, don't you love the smell of this spice, how many 1/4 cups are in one cup, and on and on.
I admit, there are times that the goof-ups during the learning curve can be quite frustrating. Hang in there. It'll pay off, big time. At age nine, my oldest daughter was able to make full meals (for example; salad, roast chicken, rice, vegetables, and homemade bread) completely on her own. Believe me, this was beyond wonderful when I had a newborn baby to tend to.
There are some occasions when I just need to get something quickly accomplished (surprise guests coming!) and do not have the time, or patience, to include them every step of the way. When this happens, they are allowed to remain in the kitchen to watch if they keep quiet and keep their hands to themselves. Usually, I end up asking for their help anyways.
I encourage you to make your children's presence in the kitchen just a regular part of your life. You'll teach them quite a bit, sure. But you'll learn a lot more.