why I cook with my children

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.

Advertisement

making monday marvelous: SK’s shaved asparagus pizza

A while ago, we were like most families, (when I say “most families” I mean most families I made up in my head because I honestly had no facts to back up my theory) and we ate pizza on Friday nights. And now I’m going to completely discredit myself as a food blogger, home cook, and avid eater by admitting that often enough said pizza was baked from frozen. Gasp!! Who even admits this treachery?! Anyway, back to pizza. I did really enjoy pizza on the weekends because it usually coincided with date-night-in or it was an easy thing for the babysitter to prepare for the kids if we went out.

Then my husband had a great idea that we do our pizza night on Mondays according to this logical equation:

  • A. Mondays are terrible.
  • B. Pizza makes everything better.
  • C. Eating pizza on Monday makes Monday less terrible.
  • Perfect logic, right? Now Mondays are nearly on par with Thursdays! (I’ll share why Thursday is the best day of the week some other time.)
  • Pizza Monday in our family began, and I have to admit that it’s pretty great. Now, I usually make it from scratch since I’m not as worn down from cooking all the weekdays preceding pizza night. This not only gives us much better pizza, but also has provided a natural opportunity for J and B to help me in the kitchen. In case you’ve never tried it out, pizza is a perfect starting point in cooking with your kids! There’s dough! No stovetop time! Little bowls of prepped toppings! Grab and throw those pepperonis, kids!

    This particular Pizza Monday, I tried out Smitten Kitchen’s Shaved Asparagus Pizza. These boys inhaled it just as they would have a pepperoni or plain cheese. That’s the beauty of a delicious crust and melty cheese – it makes whatever is on top a-okay with these littles.

    Just a couple notes on the recipe:

    • SK calls for 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, but I increased it to 1/2 cup and loved the extra sharpness.
    • The asparagus definitely mellows out from being shaved so thinly and cooked at a high temperature, so don’t be afraid if it’s not your (or your kid’s) favorite vegetable!
    • Spring for fresh mozzarella here. It makes a difference.
    • When slicing fresh mozzarella, throw it in the freezer for 20 minutes before slicing and use a serrated knife to achieve perfect circles.

    Now I’ll just be over here waiting for Monday to come around. Seriously, how great is that?

    summer berry crumble

    Growing up on a busy, winding street, I did not have friends next door to run around and play with. My brother, on the other hand, had fellow rowdy hearted boys with whom he doorbell ditched the neighbors and lit things on fire and nearly burned down a garage as we came to find out much later on. They built a fort in our large backyard, but I was not invited to explore it. This did not disappoint me too much, but it would have been nice to have a kindred spirit of my own.

    For holidays, then, if I wanted to celebrate with a friend, there was need for persuading our parents to drive us. Not really a big deal, but I must say, now that my husband and I are raising our children in a proper neighborhood, I can see many benefits for our future selves if the friends are only a block or two away.

    Last summer, I was a mere three weeks away from delivering our third, and we had lived in our home for only a week. Our sweet neighbor invited us to celebrate the Fourth of July in the culdesac with other neighbors and we jumped at the chance of meeting everyone. Our home was still filled with plenty of boxes and our appliances were needing replaced, so we only had use of our stove. It was not in my nature to pass up a holiday without baking something special, but it simply was not an option this time. We made do with offering up baked beans, hot dogs, and watermelon to the potluck table already filled with polish dishes from Joanna and Mexican style jicama prepared by Mary Lou. The night passed with stories, glasses of wine, and plenty of sparklers and firecrackers.

    One year later, our little girl is close to turning one, and I redeemed our celebratory offerings with the most delicious crumble I have truly ever tasted. Alongside another round of jicama, polish sausage and cabbage, it was a perfect all-American dessert to share with the kind neighbors we know much better this year.

    I couldn’t help myself in tweaking Linda Lomelino’s forest berry crumble recipe. I had a few firm ripe nectarines, a small bag of pecans in the pantry and a bottle of cognac begging to be used. It’s the best of picnic spreads – ripe summer berries, indulgent nuts, and a taste of luxurious liquor behind it all – turned into a bubbling, buttery, crunchy spoonful. The only thing to add was a scoop of homemade vanilla bean ice cream and I sank a little deeper in my lawn chair as the fireworks burst.

    Little tasks:

    1. Stir dry ingredients
    2. Pinch butter into oat mixture – it’s like playing in a sand box!
    3. Stir fruit mixture
    4. Scatter crumble over fruit
    Ready for the oven

    summer berry crumble

    Adapted from Linda Lomelino’s Forest Berry Crumble Pie. Makes 1 9-10 inch pie.

    Crumble Topping

    3/4 cup rolled oats

    3/4 cup (94g) all-purpose flour

    6 TBS coarse sugar

    1/4 tsp baking soda

    1/4 tsp salt

    10 TBS unsalted butter, softened

    1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

    Filling

    18 ounces mixed berries, thawed in a strainer if using frozen

    2 peaches or nectarines, diced

    1/4 cup coarse sugar

    2 TBS cornstarch

    1 TBS cognac OR 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

    1. Preheat oven to 400F

    2. Prepare topping: mix oats, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

    3. Using fingertips, pinch in butter until mixture is chunky and crumbly. Refrigerate until filling is ready.

    4. Prepare filling: gently combine berries, nectarines, sugar, cornstarch, and cognac (or vanilla) in large bowl.

    5. Pour fruit mixture into pie dish. Sprinkle crumble topping over filling.

    6. Bake for 35-40 minutes. It is ready when the topping is golden brown and the filling has been bubbling for at least five minutes.

    7. Let cool and serve with vanilla ice cream.