Monday, 23 July 2012

When my kids are in the kitchen

Lots of people talk to me about how I include my kids in the kitchen.

What do they cook?

Do they make a mess?

When do you start to let them cook?

Do you help?

Do they all like cooking?

Do they eat what they cook?

I sometimes feel stumped by questions like this.  I have been thinking about why.

My thoughts are that I think people may get the wrong idea about the reality of what happens in my kitchen.

I'm worried that it is yet another thing we judge ourselves on as parents.

Another thing we feel we should be doing and that if we aren't then our children will be detrimentally affected.

Here is a little bit about what I  think about kids being in the kitchen.

I DO think it helps them have an awareness of food.  I DON'T think it is the only way.

I  DO include my kids in the cooking. I DON'T judge you if you don't.  I love cooking. I want to share what I love with my children. I get that it is not like that for everyone. I DON'T love going to the park. Do you judge me to be a better or worse parent because of that?  What I am trying to say here is that as parents we all have something to offer our children. The fact that we all have different things to offer is a good thing. The world would be a very boring place if we were all good at the same thing.

Just because I like to cook and like to share that with my children DOES NOT make me a better parent.

I DO let my kids choose what to cook.  I DON'T always like it but I think that to help a child love cooking it is important to let them take control.  And yes little kids will almost ALWAYS choose biscuits and cakes to start with. Is there anything wrong with that? NO.

I DO believe it is important for my children to understand where food comes from and to have an understanding of the nutritional elements of food.

My children DO make a mess in the kitchen. I DO make THEM clean it up.  The cleaning up part is an important part of learning how to cook.  Yep kids do spill a lot of flour & use a lot of utensils....but if we adjust our expectations and understandings of their abilities maybe we can take away some of our own stress to do with this.   Flour can be swept away, the dishwasher can clean the plates.  And I think the mess in between is worth it.

I DO let my kids join in if they want.  I DON'T make them.

DO I expect my children to be able to label ingredients and name flavours? NO. Cooking and eating is not a competition. My desire is for my children to have a healthy love of sharing. My desire is for them to have an appreciation of how eating together is a celebration of life & love.

DO I want them to love cooking? Of course I DO. But it really doesn't matter to me if they DON'T just as it it doesn't matter to me whether or not they play footy or whether they are good at drawing. What I  DO want is for my children to find what they LOVE to do and to be able to enjoy doing it.

I DO teach my kids the skills to be independent in the kitchen including using sharp knives but I DO take over for some of the more tricky steps. I encourage my kids to watch and learn.  As they get older they do more and more independently in the kitchen.  They started doing little steps as very young children and as they get older they do more on their own.  It is important as they get older to let them go a little bit.  Let them make mistakes.  Let them learn from them. That is how we all learnt.  My eldest 3 boys who are 9, 11 & 13 are ALL able to cook several dishes entirely independently now.

Is there anything wrong with your kids cooking the same thing over and over?  NO. We all like to feel good at something.  Being able to master a dish is no different. Kids like predictability. Venturing out & trying to cook other dishes will come as their confidence in the kitchen increases.

My kids sometimes DO eat what they cook.  They DON'T always.
Do I think they should? NO not always.  Cooking is in itself an act of love. To be involved in the process is a gift to me so I don't mind if they don't eat what they have made.  Although of course I am disappointed. My kids are young.  I want them to LOVE the process of cooking and I am a strong believer that the rest follows.  To me- what is on the plate is a VERY small part of the joy of food.
I invest a whole lot more interest in the sum of the parts. And for me the most important part is the act of SHARING.  
Food is nothing without that. 

Last week my eldest son asked if he could cook dinner.  It is tricky to accomodate this when your kids ask at 6pm!!
I try to teach my children about planning in the kitchen. Planning what you want to cook and being prepared with ingredients, how to manage your time etc.
So when my eldest asked at 6pm I immediately asked him what he thought he could manage to cook that would be ready by 7?  I can't remember exactly the answer but it was definitely not something manageable in that time.
We had a conversation about Pasta. How fantastic it is for quick and delicious meals.  ANd how great it is for using what is in the fridge. I asked him to have a look in the fridge at some ingredients and have a think.  He remembered eating Puttanesca with us the week  before and loving it. The he saw the bacon.  He has inherited my love for le Piggeh.
He wanted to make a sauce that involved using bacon & decided to do a dish inspired by Puttanesca but using the bacon too. He is not a fan of olives so they didn't make an appearance.
This is what he made. 
It was a delight to see him do it all on his own and it was truly DELICIOUS.
He proudly took the leftovers in a Thermos to school for lunch the following day & was keen for me to share it with you too.

  • 400g pasta (my lad chose Spiralli)
  • 1 onion, diced finely
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 4-5 rashers of bacon, rind trimmed and chopped
  • 2 cans of tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon chilli flakes
  • 4-5 anchovies, diced finely (the anchovies add a lovely salty element to the dish and do not leave a fishy taste)
  • 1/2 bunch Italian parsley, chopped 
  • 3-4 tablespoons capers
  • EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • S & P
Chop the bacon.

Chop the onion, garlic, anchovies and the parsley.  Set half of the parsley aside for later.
Here he is chopping garlic 'Like a Boss' as he says...

Heat a non-stick frypan to medium and add a good glug of EVOO.  Add the bacon & onion and fry til the onion is translucent and the bacon is cooked.

Now add the anchovies, garlic & chilli flakes.  Fry for a minute or so or until the anchovies have melted.

Add half the parsley and the capers  & stir.

 Add the cans of tomatoes & reduce the heat to low. 

Simmer for half an hour or so or until you see the oil separate from the tomatoes.

Cook the pasta and add to the sauce for the last two minutes of cooking.   This allows the sauce to integrate into the pasta itself and makes a much tastier dish. Add the rest of the parsley and serve.

We were playing this LOUD in our kitchen yesterday at breakfast. Dare you not to MOOOOOVE. What a great clip it is too ~


  1. eating that pasta would have made me SO happy, my little lads love to measure and tip, stir and to crack eggs, they actually fight over cracking eggs !

  2. That looks delicious! Good on your boy for cooking, and you for being so chill about the whole to cook or not to cook with your kids thing. :) I'm more of a go to the park mom, and even though I love to cook, I use it as an escape time in the kitchen. :)

  3. I love your view on kids cooking! I love to cook and I hope that I can enjoy many moments in the kitchen with my two but I really appreciate your perspective on that! And I'm not much of a park mum either :)

  4. Sounds like a good philosophy Ruth. I must admit my own mother loathes cooking and so we ate very plain or very burnt meals for our whole childhood. My father did bake (bread, biscuits and slices) so I picked up a love of doing that from watching and then taking over. I didn't properly learn to cook (as in cooking dinners) until I left home, and wish that wasn't the case.
    I'm sure your boys will feel so much more comfortable in the kitchen as they will have grown up with it.

  5. Great post! I have one child who always wants to cook with me, and the other just likes to press the button on the food processor. But they have both definitely picked up on my interest in food, probably in the same way that I became interested through my mum's love of cooking. I can't wait until they are old enough to cook a meal on their own. I will be so proud! And I don't like going to the park either. But I do love watching their faces on the slide.

  6. I think that is fantastic GG and you are so right, do what works in the way it works for you and your kids. My nine yo has just mastered scrambled eggs so he is now king of weekend brekkies ... the pride in the smile as he plates us up! when he is over the scrambled googs, we will move on! your m.o. obviously works wonderfully for your brood. thanks for sharing it.

  7. Oh I love you!

    Some days my girl loves joining in with the cooking. Other days she's far too 'busy' playing or doing something else. Both are more than OK.

    I absolutely agree that sharing your own passions with your kids is wonderful - they get to see you at your happiest and they learn a lot from that.

  8. You know, I love your posts. Love them! And I think of you fondly, every time I put on my Teflon coat!

    My boy likes to eat....2yrs old and growing. He's interested in the garden and cooking too. Sometimes he helps in the kitchen, sometimes he cooks in his kitchen alongside me.....Sometimes he is less of a help but....well I guess I'm the one that needs to relax. But I do want him to enjoy the conviviality that food contributes to. That said it's hard to remember that, when he won't sit down at the table and insists on eating as he runs around the table!

    Ms Nada

  9. You're Ace Ruth. Thanks for putting things in perspective. You're such a wise gal!

  10. I love how relaxed you are Ruth.I wish I knew you years ago so I could follow your lead. You see I have one of the fussiest eaters ever to grace the earth. After years of seeing doctors, nutritionist, dieticians, psychologist & even a hypnotist ( CRAZY I KNOW!) I finally just let go. As much as it still kills me to watch him eat the same handful of foods over & over I know now, I can't change it, I can't MAKE him eat. I hope one day he'll realise food is great, that its not something to be scared of & join in but until then we are just thankful he is healthy & happy.Thankfully he loves to read so we have a different passion to share.
    My other boy is food mad! He joins me in the garden & in the kitchen. He'll look though cookbooks & watch cooking shows, he's not afraid to try things even if he doesn't always like them. It's a joy to watch him get excited over food the same way I do. He knows which markets sell our favourite lebanese bread, which ones have his favourite hot potatoes & right now he is trying to find a churros recipe for us to cook. It's lovely to share your passion with your kids & I really enjoy reading & seeing you do this with your kids. It's beautiful xx

  11. I find you do have to let go, especially about the mess. I must admit I clean up all Poppy's mess as I don't want to eat into the fun (excuse the pun). We only do baked goods though! I did love on my mothers day card was "mum makes me feel safe at the park and we bake" She can crack an egg like a pro

  12. WORD. TO YA MUMMA. x

  13. Oh J! That looks totally delicious - Well done you clever thing. Yummo! Thanks for sharing such an awesome recipe.

  14. Love your words. I know there are days that the words "mum can I do some cooking" make me cringe. There are times that I say no. But also many yes times. We have much muffin / cupcake / dessert cooking. Yet to graduate onto "dinner" food. Maybe one day. Perhaps the kid's #masterchef phenomena is where the "competitiveness" comes from. Who knows. I think you're ace. I love that your kids cook. But I don't judge either way. Xx

  15. Hi, I am a new mum (I have a 4 month old son) and I'm youngish too for starting a family (25). I've been following your blog for a while now and I have to say you sound so reassuring! I love how you see your children and how you treat them and fit into the role of being a mum. I hope that I will know what to do later like you seem to instinctively. I read your posts on my rss feed usually and I have marked a few posts for later, for when I feel like I need some guidance and wise words as my little one gets older. My mum lives in another country so I feel I need all the help I can get! Thank you for being such an honest person with a genuine love and care for your children and others. Thank you for sharing your thoughts as well as recipes (which sound great by the way, I'm also waiting till baby is a little less needy so I can try a few out) because whether you know it or not, you are helping those of us who need a few down to earth words and a bit of reassurance when it comes to parenting styles! Thanks x x x

  16. I love that you let them do so much in the kitchen, i am feeling a little like I don't get mine to do enough. I have been volenterrring in our schools new kitchen these last couple of months and I am really loving seeing 8 and 9 year olds cooking. i have bben blown away by the skills, the eagerness and the speed at which these kids are absorbing and learning. It is still really nerve wreaking standing between 2 kids chopping with very sharp knives. My son is in this group and over the time has not become any more willing to try new foods, in fact last week he only drank the lemongrass ale.
    I feel like i have done something wrong by him, I have 3 other kids all of whom will eat almost anything. I am inspired by your boys and i am going to make some changes round here regarding getting him involved and interested.
    Thanks for an inspiring post.

  17. Hmm. One word. Awesome! I am so proud of your eldest and the way you let him think about it and plan it is so wonderful. Haha. Pasta is definitely one of our go-to recipes when dinner needs to be on the table in under an hour and your boy's pasta looks so simple and scrumptious.

    I am thankful because I had a mum who taught me 99% of everything I know about the kitchen. I think it takes two hands to clap. Mum loved being in the kitchen. I loved it too. My sister is completely opposite. She has only cooked indomee before. Haha. She married a man who can cook!
    So I feel that it is normal if some children love cooking/eating... and others just don't see what's the fuss about it all.

    The kitchen is meant to be messy. That's why there isn't carpet in the kitchen!!! That's why people invented Mr. Muscle (what would I do without him). My mum used to put her huge cordless phone in a plastic bag tied with rubberbands, so that she could answer the phone while still baking her pastries and working with all that dough. And we survived.

    Sometimes, I think mums nowadays put wayyyyy too much pressure on themselves and then they visit 1001 blogs and worry that they're not doing the right thing. Which I don't think is true. Everyone does things differently and has their own style, likes, comfort zones... but we all do it in the best interests of our children, which is great and not wrong at all. Good on ya for sharing your thoughts!

  18. Everything I read is making me cry today - and this is no exception. Love how you worked with your boy to come up with dinner. Love.

  19. Brilliant post. I had to read after Amy mentioned it on Instagram. (@themisadventurousmaker)
    I just love how you simply sum up all the do's and don'ts.
    My favourite bit? "I DO include my kids in the cooking. I DON'T judge you if you don't". I think that's so important. We put so much pressure on each other as Mums/parents. Like, oh if her kids can do it then so should mine! But it's not about that at all.
    And I totally agree about letting them clean up. Again, it's about relinquishing control and letting them learn the whole process. Thanks! - Lucinda

  20. Joining in the praise for your warm, helpful and, yes, blissfully judgement-free account of the pleasures of family cooking.

  21. Love this post and love your words. I read this post when you first wrote it, but was reading via my phone so didn't comment at the time. I've thought about it a lot since then. Especially as my little blog is full of cooking and my Instagram feed is too. I have had lots of lovely comments from lovely mamas complimenting me but I sometimes felt uncomfortable about it. Once I read this post, I understood why. Just because I like to cook and I cook with my kids doesn't mean I'm a good mum, it's just my thing. I actually have linked to this post a couple of times when some lovely folk have put themselves down in comparison to my cooking photos - the lovely LuLu above was one! I think you have said it perfectly. Sometimes the food I cook for my boys makes me feel redeemed for the areas of parenting in which I'm lacking.I hope I am a good mum, but I know that so many elements go in to that and I'm a work in progress.

    Thank you for such a thoughtful post. And your 12 year old is a real inspiration!!!
    PS I am not a fan of going to the playground!!!!!

  22. Hi again Ruth
    We found ourselves returning to this post yesterday and have decided to share it, this morning, on our own Facebook Page; I'm sure it will continue to resonate with many.

  23. I think that it wonderful that you let your children cook dinner it gives them an appreciation of the time ,ingredients and the love of cooking and eating together as a family and the cleaning up,your such a good Mum to those boys xx


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