Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

email: margalitc at yahoo dot com

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Cooking with kids

When my twins were in first grade, I enrolled them in an afterschool cooking class that met twice a week. They learned basic cooking skills like how to stir vs fold ingredients, how to measure wet and dry ingredients, how to grate cheese, and basic knife skills. They cut veggies and fruit, and the made dinner to bring home every Thursday night. Sometimes it was an interesting dinner, but we ate it with gusto and I took note that my very picky eater, the Girl, usually ate everything she had made. It was, as Oprah says, one of those lightbulb moments when I realized that the more she was involved in food preparation, the more likely it was that she would eat the food.

So we continued cooking lessons at home, and that hasn't changed to this day. Every night when I make dinner, the kids help. Interestingly, the Boy is more of a help than the Girl, because she's just so not into almost anything I cook. But the Boy, being and enthusiastic and brazen eater, likes to help cook. Not only does he like to help, he likes to cook himself, although he's so lazy he'll complain bitterly about it because it involves actual movement of the body, rather than just of the thumbs.

Last night he helped me make a rather spectacular dinner. We had two large bluefish filets, some freshly picked corn, israeli couscous, and edemame. We first cleaned off the bluefish, which can be a rather bloody fish. I lightly oiled the broiler pan and placed the fillets on the pan. We sliced thin pats of butter and laid it atop the fish, then sliced a lemon in thin slices and laid it atop the butter. A sprinkle of fresh dill from the garden and sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and the fish was ready to bake.

I cooked the Israeli couscous according to the package. I added soaked dried cranberries and freshly made pecan pralines, and then dressed with a light drizzle of light olive oil.

The edamame was frozen, so I thawed it in the microwave for a few seconds, and then added fresh porcini buttons sliced thin and sauted in olive oil. I added thinly julianned red pepper for crunch and a bit of lemon juice for flavor.

We steamed the corn and served dinner.

When the Girl sat down, she looked dismayed because the fish was 'spicy'. She saw the dill and assumed it would be too spicy for her, but when I told her it was the same dill she's been picking and eating in the herb garden by the back door, she decided to take a chance and taste it. She ate her whole piece, which was amazing. She tried everything else, but didn't really like the couscous. That's OK, it's a rather advanced taste for her palatte, which is kinda stuck on pancakes and yogurt.

The Boy, however, inhaled everything and ate a full fillet of fish. He saw how I made the fish as he was helping with the corn and the salads, and now he knows how to make something new on his own. As he helps me cook, he's mastered simple things like making rice and pasta correctly, and he's moved on to pan frying (although he doesn't flip things over very well due to lousy small motor skills) and baking.

This has got me really excited, because now I can say things like, "OK, who wants to make some scones?" and after they fight for 10 minutes about who did it last time, and how tired they are, and how it's not FAIR that they have to help cook dinner AND make scones... someone will get off their butts and make scones. And it doesn't always have to be me. Yeehaw!

Now, the controversy arises when other kids come over because in this town, nobody has chores. Most of the parents don't cook, they just have $100K show kitchens with restaurant style Wolfe stoves and 2 Bosch dishwashers and a undercounter wine cooler. Instead they order in or have personal chefs that deliver food, or go out to eat. We know kids who go out to eat every single night. So the guest kids, who can't even make ramen by themselves, think that my kids are treated like slaves because they have to, gasp, help with dinner, and even worse, set and clear the table and do the dishes. I've even had parents complain to me that I'm making my kids do too much. Of course these same parents have maids and husbands with 6 figure salaries...

I've never been a helicopter parent. I don't believe it's healthy to hover over your kids and protect them from everything. Kids who have hovering parents grow up to be unable to do for themselves. Remember in college when you first moved into the dorms and there were kids there that were incapable of doing anything for themselves? I have always believed that this was a crime. Parents are supposed to guide their children into adulthood, and one of the skills learned is how to cook a meal for themselves.

There are other skills I think are equally important.

  • How to vacuum a rug.
  • How to wash dishes.
  • How to dust.
  • How to load and run the dishwasher.
  • How to do your own laundry.
  • How to mow the lawn.
  • How to do minimal gardening (planting, weeding, etc.)
  • How to straighten up a room without moving piles from one place to another (we're still working on this one)
  • How to make coffee.
  • How to order in a restaurant.
  • How to ask for directions.
  • How to manage your allowance or money you've earned.
  • How to use an ATM machine.
  • How to wash a floor.
  • How to change the litter box.
  • How to care for a pet.
  • How to respect other people's property.
  • How to keep track of your own property.

These are some of the skills that I've worked on with my children since they were very young. I have ulterior motives. There is no guarantee that I'm going to be around to help them later on in their lives, so they need to learn now. These are skills that will enable them to move away from home and take care of themselves if need be. And they are skills that will help them in future personal relationship. Honestly, who doesn't want a man that can cook? Or ask for directions?

So I continue teaching my children to cook and clean, because I know it will make them better adults. And besides, I love the company in the kitchen.
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Blogger srp said...

Here from Michele.
I also believed in chores for my daughter and always had her make her own bed, pick up toys, vacuum and help take out the trash as well as clean the cat boxes.

It's a great advantage in college for them to do their own laundry and iron (although I think the iron is rarely used today). Nyssa moved back to school yesterday and as RA has a single. They have put lofts in all the single rooms with the bed on top. She didn't need the extra room of a loft and wanted her bed on the floor, but there is a rule that what is in the room, stays in the room. So, she unbunked the loft and took the loft frame apart. It fits on the floor behind her bed and now she can see the sunrise from her bed for a change.

We may have a whole generation of kids who expect 6 figure salaries after getting out of college but don't know how to actually do anything practical. Heaven forbid they have kids.

19/8/06 3:45 PM  
Blogger Shephard said...

I read this quite wistfully, wishing my parents had done likewise. Honestly, what a lovely thing you're doing for them. My mom decided she wasn't cooking anymore, after 5 kids, when I was 13. We went to a "truck stop" every night for dinner after that. I never learned to cook. Eventually, I learned simple thigns from others. Sometimes I wonder if I'd enjoy cooking more had I had the practical experience.

Great post, and great list as well.

Michele says hi,

19/8/06 4:20 PM  
Blogger moon said...

Great idea of cooking classes when they are young, I wish they had something like that here. Although I have showed my daughter a few thing over the yrs, doing a class with someone OTHER then mom, is more motivating lol

19/8/06 4:23 PM  
Blogger Shane said...

woo hoo, i got skills!

heh heh,

cheers from michele's

19/8/06 4:25 PM  
Blogger utenzi said...

I applaud your approach to raising your kids, Margalit. I'm behind you 100%. And that Bluefin sounds delicious!

19/8/06 4:46 PM  
Blogger jo said...

I applaud your decision as well.
My parents both worked in the 70's and 80's i came home to n mpty house and received the call form the office telling me how to prep dinner so it would be ready upon their arrival.
I vacuumed for allowance, worked summers from the time I was 15, had to do my own laundry and clean up the dishes.
I think it is fair to say that these skills have served me exceedingly well in life.
You know where I work so I can agree that I see what you speak of on a daily basis. Parenting needs to revert back a few decades.

19/8/06 5:47 PM  
Blogger JMC designs said...

You are so so smart!
Yes when the children have invested their time and energy into cooking they will eat it.
Kudos to you


26/8/06 3:10 PM  

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