Cooking with children may seem like a double-edged sword. There is fun, joy, creativity, playful learning, etc. on one side and usually a big mess on the other. We all remember cooking together that resulted, among other things, in water being spilled all over the floor, in vegetable peels scattered around the kitchen or in the kitchen island covered in flour and little fingers coated with sticky dough. After recreating order from the chaos around us, we might be tempted to ask ourselves: “Was it worth it?” After short hesitation, our inner voice will hopefully answer: “Yes, it was.”
I consider cooking with children an investment into their future and mine. (Selfishly hoping that maybe one day I will be able sit down to a nicely set table and enjoy a meal prepared by my children.)
When I cook with children, on the practical level, I teach them a life skill. I am empowering the kids by giving them the ability to take care of themselves and possibly others. But on the way towards the meal, as they help to prepare it, they also learn where food comes from, how it is grown and what it takes to grow it. Those who know how long the road is from a seed planted on a farm to a dinner on our table, will appreciate the food, the environment and labor of those who work with nature to grow food.
Depending on your priorities, you may consider cooking with children also a real life application of math skills (when measuring, doubling or downscaling a recipe), a practice of eye–hand coordination (think chopping, grating etc.), lesson in cultural history (Where does bread come from?) and science (What does the yeast do?), or an exercise in finding balance, in this case between flavors, textures, aromas and colors. I like to tell myself that I am doing all of the above and thus contributing to my children’s wellbeing and holistic understanding of the world.
Before involving children as helpers in big cooking projects, it is nice to empower them by letting them create a simple meal they are able to make (almost) all by themselves.
I ‘d like to share a recipe for a simple seasonal salad we made out of the season’s last baby greens harvested in our garden on an unusually warm November day. Children will be thrilled to get their hands wet when washing the greens, make the salad spinner spin and prepare the dressing using a low-tech shaking method. Have more dried cranberries handy than needed for the salad, some will get “lost” along the way.
For the salad:
6 cups of mixed baby greens (our mix included several types of lettuce, arugula, mizuna, and baby kale)
1 crispy apple, chopped into small chunks
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup walnuts, preferably toasted
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon thyme, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, put through a garlic press
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper
Wash the greens, then dry using a salad spinner.
Put the vinaigrette ingredients into a small mason jar. Close the jar and shake for 30 to 60 seconds.
Place the salad greens and apple chunks in a bowl, gently toss with the vinaigrette.
Sprinkle with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts.
This salad makes a nice seasonal lunch, and although simple and easy to make, it is good enough to deserve a spot on your holiday table. Enjoy!