Some of my earliest memories revolve around helping in the kitchen: cutting grapes for fruit salads, mixing batter for potato pancakes, watching apples boil for applesauce and swiping chunks of mozzarella cheese for lasagna. My aunt and I used to make Sunday brunch for my family while everyone else went to church. It was our tradition. Later, I insisted on having my own nights to make dinner, roasting vegetables in the oven before I knew what roasting was, and serving them in marinara over pasta. That was my specialty at age 11.
These days, my recipes are a little more complicated. But I still love the sensation of standing in front of a hot stove while singular ingredients combine to form delicious dishes. It's something I am determined to pass along to my young children.
My almost-three-year-old son Will has a kitchen job: spinning the Salad Spinner. He loves it and comes running at the mere mention of making salad. Even with my knock-off spinner from Ikea (it doesn't have the handy push button of the real thing), he can swirl the lettuce to near dryness, saving me time and giving him a sense of accomplishment for helping to get our food on the table.
In the coming months, I hope to introduce Will to new techniques and hand over the salad spinning to my young daughter. In the meantime though, she's happy watching, listening and eating Cheerios from the high chair.
Chef Gale Gand says that kids and the kitchen are a good fit. "It's almost natural that they want to go in the kitchen," she says. Gand, who recently collaborated on the new cookbook Food for Thought: From Parents to Children from the Wheat Foods Council, says that high walled bowls and a mantra of "everything is washable" make the kid cooking experience more doable. She also makes sure to use her stand mixer to be hands free to help younger chefs with their cooking. "The way I initially started was giving them things to mix or stir," Gand said.
Letting kids help in the kitchen can also lead to kids trying new things, says food blogger Cate O'Malley who writes Sweetnicks. "My nearly-six-year-old son, Nicholas, loves to help out in the kitchen. As soon as he sees me in there, he drags the stepstool over to the counter and asks what he can do to help," O'Malley said. "He is always more interested in eating something that he made himself, so the more he helps, the more inclined he might be to try something new. He's at the point now where I'll ask him occasionally what he wants for dinner, and we'll go through cookbooks or look online to find a recipe to make."
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