I have not always allowed my children in the kitchen. Some days, the last thing I want to do is allow them to enter, much less help me. It’s a natural response for anyone, I believe, who enjoys her time in the kitchen and occasionally sees it as her sanctuary. Yet, these days, I allow little hands to touch our family food much more often. What changed? When I stretched myself to remember my own childhood and my food experiences within it, I realized that I have an incredible opportunity to shape my children’s relationship with food and their own future kitchen simply by welcoming them into mine.
I have always loved to eat. A story my mom enjoys telling is how one Saturday morning in my young childhood, my dad cooked pancakes. She noticed I had eaten quite a few already, but my dad was still serving me. As it turned out, I kept asking for more, and he merely wanted to see how many I could eat, so on my plate they fell. My appetite for food, especially homecooked meals, has not wavered since.
The love was there, but what about the learning? Much of my early experience came through reading on my own. My mom subscribed to a couple cooking magazines that became my mealtime reading material in high school. I learned quite a bit about nutrition, flavor combinations, and seasonal possibilities from Cooking Light, Southern Living, and Bon Appetit. I asked for certain cookbooks for Christmases and read them cover to cover nearly as greedily as I read new Harry Potter books in those days.
More so than cookbooks, or my love for eating, it was most likely my mother’s own enjoyment of cooking and our nearly nightly family meals she made that laid the strongest foundation for my relationship with my kitchen. This is what I would dearly love to pass on to my own children. Perhaps just enough expertise, hopefully decent taste and a healthy dose of good nutrition, but above all, enjoyment.
Childhood is a precious time. How easily we can let these days fly by, only remembering our grumbly feelings about messes and tantrums. Won’t you strive with me to see the bigger picture? Our children will be adults in no. time. at. all. Let that sink in! Use this fleeting phase to teach them what you desire them to learn. For our family, we want them to first learn about the grace and love that Jesus gives them every day, no matter what, and that we want to love them as He does, too. Closely following many matters of virtue and discipline, we desire them to be independent – able to provide for themselves well in the crucial areas of life. In regards to eating, we desire them to be healthy, seeking out and preparing diverse, whole foods.
More and more, Americans are relying on food delivery services. Grocery stores are making significant space for prepared meals one quick reheat away from the table. As wonderful as these options are for the odd busy night, I do not want my children to depend upon these conveniences when they are grown. Convenience is usually costly, both monetarily and nutritionally. Training our children to cook at home sets them up for future success in feeding themselves and their families wholesome and budget-friendly food.
I occasionally imagine my littles as teenagers (yet only occasionally because honestly it scares me half to death!), and one visual I enjoy seeing is my sons preparing their own food. By that time they’ll be nearly hulking men and need twice the calories a day that I will! A foundation in the kitchen will allow even young teenagers to feed themselves well, relieving the primary home cook of some responsibility. Doesn’t that sound lovely? I recognize that this cannot be a guarantee, and perhaps one day the child will decide to never cook a meal again. That is highly unlikely, though, if we let them enjoy their time with us preparing food for ourselves or others.
Feeding picky eaters can be rough. Letting your children in on food choice and preparation is a golden strategy for encouraging them to try something new. Many parents I know feed their children the same dinner they eat. Seeing spinach mixed in with a lasagna or carrots added to their chili can be scary for young eaters, so allowing them to help with the preparation process and seeing these foods before they’re set in front of them at the table helps allay those fears.
My personal goal met by cooking with my littles is to nurture a few different relationships: my children and me, my children and the kitchen, my children and food. If this is your own desire, too, then I would love to know how you are fostering these relationships in your own home. Or if I have just sparked a new desire, then please keep close and let us take this on together for the good of our families and our futures.