Can I admit that, by nature, I’m one of those moms who gets a little too controlling in the kitchen when I’m cooking with my kid? That I have to work hard to relax and not freak out if a little flour gets on the floor? “It’s okay!” I tell myself. “This is a great learning experience. Rosa is picking up new skills, learning to appreciate food, and what’s more, this is good bonding time for the two of us!” With all of those benefits what’s a little flour on the floor or egg on the face (literally)?
Sometimes that internally-directed pep talk actually works.
And since I started collaborating with children’s chef Suzy Scherr I’ve evolved even further. Suzy teaches Rosaberry’s kids cooking classes, and she is such a passionate advocate for bringing kids into the kitchen that even I am swayed. Cooking with kids is the best thing ever! In fact, Rosa and I have been cooking quite a bit together from this book.
I asked Suzy to tell us about her experiences with kids in the kitchen, at what age kids can start cooking, and why we should tolerate the mess and welcome kids to the counter.
When did you start cooking with kids?
I first started working with kids in 1997 when I founded an after school cooking program called Brainfood in Washington, D.C. I started the organization because I wanted to offer high-school aged kids something safe, supervised and structured to do after school, and I believed food was a powerful way to connect with them and a great framework for teaching a host of different life skills. I ran the organization until 2003, and it still exists and is going strong. I have since taught and written cooking curricula for kids of all ages both privately and in classroom settings.
Did you like to cook when you were a kid?
I loved it. I still have all of my cookbooks from childhood, including a pretty fantastic Strawberry Shortcake cookbook. I created my first recipe when I was about 8 years old: boxed macaroni and cheese with a can of Hunt’s tomato sauce stirred in (ewww!). I was so proud. My parents told me they loved it (they are kind), and I’m pretty sure that’s when I got hooked on cooking for people.
What are your favorite classes to teach?
I especially like teaching classes that incorporate children’s books, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Blueberries for Sal, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Bringing stories to life through food is really fun.
Why should we teach kids how to cook?
The benefits are nearly endless! Not only is it fun, but cooking helps kids grow in lots of different ways. Following recipes and working with others in the kitchen teaches teamwork, builds math skills, science skills, reading skills and organizational abilities. Making something that tastes good builds confidence and self-esteem and stimulates creativity. Measuring, stirring, pouring, slicing, kneading, tearing, spreading… all help develop strength and motor skills, especially in very small children. Waiting for cookies to bake, pasta to cook, or soup to cool off teaches patience. Cooking and tasting foods from other countries and cultures can open up the whole world to kids, helping to pique their curiosity and sense of adventure. And then, of course, there’s some very compelling research out there that shows kids are more likely to develop healthy eating habits if they’re involved in making family meals.
At what age should parents bring their children into the kitchen?
I think you can bring kids as young as toddlers into the kitchen. Little children love to help, and they like to watch what happens at the stove or in the oven (just remember to supervise closely). Little ones love to “help” pour liquids, stir in spices, crack eggs. Just be patient and flexible, especially when it comes to messes. As it turns out, kids also really like to clean up! I have yet to encounter a kid who isn’t delighted at the sight of a wet, soapy sponge!
Tell me about this recipe.
This recipe is a great one to make with very small children, especially if you’re just getting started in the kitchen together. It is a salad that comes straight from the pages of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I recommend reading the story together and then keeping the book close by while you’re making the salad so you can add each new fruit as the caterpillar makes his way through them in the story. Serrated dinner knives or plastic knives work fine for chopping and slicing. And don’t forget to point out that the green leaves you’re adding to the salad are just like the one the caterpillar ate to make his tummy feel better after eating lots of junk food! Kids love this salad on its own or topped with yogurt.
5 oranges (clementines may be easier for little fingers)
Mint leaves from 2 or 3 sprigs of mint for garnish
- First, match the actual fruit with the pictures from the book, count the fruit, and talk about the colors. Give your child a chance to touch and smell each one. Cut each fruit open and discuss what each looks like on the inside.
- Parent should core apple and pears, hull strawberries and pit the plum and then let your child help slice them. Let child help peel and separate oranges.
- Let child pick a few mint leaves and add it to the bowl of fruit.
- Stir to combine.