Cooking with the Kiddos

When my daughter Heidi was young, very young, we cooked together all the time.  Little ones are by nature inquisitive and want to do whatever the adults are doing. They love to imitate and are Mom’s best “helpers” if you can call their efforts help.  It really doesn’t matter what they do as long as they think they’re helping, are involved and putting in their 2 cents. It can be something as simple as letting them stir the already finished batter or add the last ingredient; a 3 year old will truly believe they helped and be willing and waiting to help in the future.  Believe you me start them out young, encouraging them to “help” and they will always be interested in baking or cooking.

Now that she has her own home and family Heidi is quite accomplished in the kitchen and best of all, she cooks with her boys.  Some of our best memories were from baking together and sharing the cooking chores for daily dinners.  Heidi was one of the few in her circle of friends that wanted to cook and was given the opportunity to practice, to hone her skills, and become proficient at baking and cooking.  Most of her friends loved coming over to our house on baking day.  They readily joined in the fun and became less intimidated by kitchens and more willing to try something from scratch.

It took such little effort to find kid friendly recipes but in the end was so worth it; just to see the smile on their face when they presented their creations.  It could be as simple as a bowl of Jello but, they were proud of the fact that it was theirs and theirs alone.  “I MADE something!”  “Check it out!  This green fluff is my masterpiece!”  “I baked these cookies!”  “Try the soup we made; it’s delicious!”  The cookies could be a little dark or a bit burned on the bottom, the soup could be a little under seasoned, it didn’t matter, what mattered most was they created something in the kitchen that could be eaten and shared.  They created more than just food; they created memories, a feeling of pride and accomplishment that cannot be squashed.  They learned to believe in their abilities and even learned a little math in the process.

As she aged, Heidi became more proficient in the kitchen and often baked and cooked for her own pleasure.  Girl Scout badges often provided inspiration and guidance when deciding what to bake.  Other times she baked to help raise funds for a charity through bake sales. But, mostly she baked because she started baking as a young child and continued baking on her own as she aged because she loved to work in the kitchen.

The first reason for baking on a large scale was the Christmas holiday when she was three.  When asked who she wanted to give gifts to for Christmas, Heidi responded, “Fred.”  We didn’t have anyone in our family or circle of friends named Fred so I asked if Fred was an imaginary friend.  “No, Fred and Susi,” came the response.  They own the Hallmark store in town and Fred was her friend.  He paid attention to her and joked with her whenever we went into the shop.  She wanted to give him a gift because we were always buying gifts from him.  So that year, we started a tradition that Heidi continues today.  We baked small loaves of teabread and gave them to all the shop owners in town with a thank you note for serving us all year long.  This tradition started out as a way for a three year old to give a gift to a friend but became part of our Christmas traditions.  Even when Heidi went away to college, she would fly home and start baking the very next day so we could take breads to our shop owners before Christmas.

During her high school years, it seemed there were always additional kids in our kitchen.  Heidi even threw dinner parties for her friends.  They were required to dress-up, bring their best manners and a date if they wanted.  These dinner parties were styled after old black and white 1940’s movies starting with mock-tails and appetizers, then on to the main course at a table set with china and crystal and relaxing afterward with dessert and coffee. These dinner parties became something to look forward to and really encouraged the kids to see food as more than burgers and fries.

These events taught them table manners and how to act at a sophisticated party. It gave them confidence and a feeling of accomplishment; that they could go out into the big scary world and not embarrass themselves at a dinner party…..sort of a trial run.  In this case, only their friends needed to see their embarrassing moves because they wouldn’t make that mistake again.  I loved these dinner parties when ten to twelve of her dearest friends would descend on our home, share a meal, engage in conversation, solve all the world’s problems, and go home only after everything was cleaned up and put away.  What a great group of kids!

I have always believed that all children, no matter their age will rise to the level expected of them.  And these friends proved that point over and over again.

Heidi was an only child which made it easy for our house to become a hang-out for her friends since there were no little brothers or sisters to get into their plans or events.  We enjoyed cookie baking days, planned and entertained at youth dinner parties, threw together impromptu barbecues, laughed and cried at iron chef competitions, baked beautiful breakfasts for sleep-overs and more.  Our house has always had children cooking and now that I have grandsons, we Cook with the Kiddos whenever we are together.

During the Christmas holidays, our cookie days were greatly anticipated and our gingerbread house decorating day brought such delight. These events foster a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Baking from scratch improves children’s math skills using fractions and measuring but most importantly it gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment.

So follow this blog and watch for posts about Cooking with the Kiddos for ideas on baking and entertaining youngsters in the kitchen.

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