Yesterday evening I baked shortbread with my friends Matt, who is 10 years old, and Brooke, who is 8. I enjoy cooking with kids; it’s a journey of discovery. They want to taste all the ingredients and they ask good questions about the process. (I’ve learned a lot of cooking science over the years in the course of finding answers to their questions.) Children who cook are almost always excited about the end product of their labour.
There is scarcely a child in my life with whom I haven’t cooked. Over the years I’ve cooked with all my grandchildren, my nieces and nephew, the children I’ve provided daycare for, and my neighbour’s kids. I’ve cooked in classrooms, I’ve cooked with brownies and cubs, I’ve cooked in other people’s homes and, of course, I’ve cooked in my own. The kids and I have made a pretty diverse range of dishes too: everything from soups and salads to breads and cookies.
What have I learned in the course of all this cooking? Well, I’ve learned that children want to know the “whys” of cooking and the “wheres.” They like to know where a dish originated and how it ended up in our Canadian kitchen. Children want to taste everything that goes into a dish and, when cooking, will try ingredients that they would normally shy away from. They will almost always eat a dish that they have helped to prepare.
I’ve used that last fact to my great advantage over the years. Kids are fickle about what they like to eat. They’ll love something one day and dislike it the next. They also take umbrage to some foods just because they are unfamiliar with them. If I’m caring for a child who is a picky eater, I make a point of taking them into the kitchen with me. It helps them to develop a more adventurous attitude toward food.
The very best thing that has come from my time spent in the kitchen with children, though, is the communication that arises from the process of sharing an enjoyable task. When we are cooking together barriers come down, trust is established, and friendship grows. My life is much richer for those friendships and I am grateful that our time in the kitchen together has allowed them to flourish.