Dear Mr. Dad: I read your recent column about doing projects with your kids and liked what you had to say. But you left out a very important part of the house: the kitchen. While not everyone will have to do household repairs or change the oil in their car, we all have to eat. My mom always had me help her in the kitchen, and as a mom, I want to pass on that tradition to my own kids (who are 4 and 8). What's your advice on the best way to get going?
A: Cooking with your mother has clearly left you with many fond memories, so my best advice is to do exactly what your mom did with you (which, I'll bet, is exactly what her mom did with her). But for those readers who weren't as fortunate, if you're looking for a great way to spend time with your child(ren), making meals together is wonderful. As you point out, we all have to eat, so why not turn your meal prep time into some delicious quality time?
And no, you don't have to be an iron chef to enjoy puttering around in the kitchen. Even the most basic tasks -- things like cracking eggs, stirring, dropping bread into the toaster, or using a can opener (with supervision, of course) -- can be fun for everyone. If you don't have a lot of experience, start off easy, making dishes with relatively few ingredients, such as muffins, cookies, smoothies, scrambled eggs, and omelets. You have two goals. First, to produce something that the whole family will enjoy eating, and second, to give your kids (and yourself) a feeling of pride and accomplishment that will make all of you want to get back in the kitchen again.
Aside from that, cooking teaches children a variety of important skills, including reading, cooperation, following instructions, fractions and proportions, and patience (something good to eat will be coming out of the oven, but it'll be a few minutes...). Plus, having some basic familiarity with cooking will increase the chance that they'll eat something other than ramen noodles when they're off at college.
And for all you dads out there, your heading up the cooking team will not only give mom a break, but shows children that spending time in the kitchen is a perfectly acceptable activity for men, women, boys, and girls.
To make the experience as pleasant as possible, the first time you cook together, make sure you have all the ingredients you'll need before you start. Later, as you and your young sous chef get more experienced, list-making and shopping together will become important parts of the overall experience.
A few overall guidelines:
-- Safety first (and second and third). Always supervise your child when he or she is using sharp knives, stirring pots, opening the oven, or approaching a burner. Kitchen accidents usually happen quickly and can be extremely painful.
-- Celebrate. When you serve your creations, be sure to let your helper (and everyone else who's enjoying the fruits of your labors) know that it was a team effort.
-- Back off. As you and your kids become more experienced, let them plan meals and select recipes -- even if they seem insanely complicated.
-- Experiment. What happens if you add a little more of one ingredient or a little less of another one?
-- Watch. There are a lot of cooking shows on TV, some of which feature kids making the most incredible dishes. My daughter is obsessed with those shows and we often watch them together. They've definitely inspired her to do more cooking.
-- Keep it fun. Start off easy and build slowly. Trying to prepare a 9-course dinner when all you have is an hour will frustrate both of you and could end up making your cooking time feel more like torture than the fun bonding experience it's supposed to be.
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to email@example.com.)
(c)2018 Armin Brott
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