Confession...I STRONGLY dislike cooking with kids.They just make the whole process so messy.
I don’t like how when they stir things it slops everywhere or how when they dump things in it never makes the actual bowl. I don’t like how I have to talk to them while I am cooking. That’s the most annoying part of it all. (I sound like such a monster.)
Cooking is a selfish endeavor for me. The chopping and sorting of ingredients is therapy. The stirring a pot listening to the sizzle and the glug gluging and the schlop schlop is a yoga class for me where I breath in and out. It’s the most magical part of my day when a pile of something raw becomes nourishing and warm and delightfully delicious.
And bringing kids into the mix just messes everything up.
But they do that to a lot of things in our lives, don't they. They come in with their own personalities and souls and teach us a new way. They show us how to slow down or to speed up. They push us to challenge our current thoughts or stand firm on our own convictions.
They make things messy.
But sometimes its the messiest of kids that change us for the better. And this kind of mess can’t be cleaned up with a bucket of bleach.
Like the ones with energy levels you just can’t match. Or the ones who stretch your limits on the regular. Or the ones who just feel “hard” in all the various ways that can mean to you.
Some kids just make this whole process emotionally messy.
I have one of those. And I’m realizing, in time, I am better for it.
Because, in the wake of this mess, I have learned new ways to parent and to be a better human.
The list of things I have learned from this child could fill volumes. So lets start with one.
Give him a job.
And yes, that means even in the kitchen.
Much like a puppy, I have learned this child does better with a task. So when dinner needs to be prepped and he is nagging and whining and running circles, suddenly having a task he deems helpful focuses his energy and grounds him.
Much of my confidence in the kitchen comes from my sister, the one behind Hey Sis Try This. She seems to be more patient with her little ones in the kitchen, which encouraged me to give it a try. What was missing before in my quest to ban children from the kitchen was I needed to define what was ok for my kids to do when participating in cooking. Precise baking? Too stressful. Hot stoves? Again, TOO stressful, especially with my clumsy kids.
But with practice, and nagging from the kid that JUST WANTS TO HELP, I have found a good compromise with activities they can manage and that doesn’t cause more physical, not to mention emotional, mess than is required.
1. It is ok to give a child a “job” that is not actually part of the prep process at all. Hand them the peelings from onions or potatoes and have them toss in a bowl. Give them a bowl of water and salt and tell them to stir it up. Just a side note warning on this one, though. It may result in your three year old feeling like he should add salt to all things on his own, such as maybe dumping the whole canister of salt into the homemade chicken stock sitting on the counter ready for soup prep while you are upstairs putting a baby down for a nap. Just hypothetically of course.
A step up from this process is have them scoop up things you have chopped to put onto a sheet pan. I've share this method before and it is still used on the regular.
2. Trust them with knives. I lost most of you on this one. But I promise, with the right knife, they can handle this. (This is probably where my lawyer would tell me to insert liability disclaimer.) For his birthday, Elliott received a set of knives that are designed for slicing through lettuce and tomatoes without bruising them. They are serrated but do not have any sharp edges that can cut little fingers. It’s been trial and error to find out what he can use them on but I can already see he is developing knife skills. Can he prepare a precise mirepoix? Certainly not (Not yet anyway!) But the knives are perfect for cutting chunks of cucumber, zucchini, softer new potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, lettuce, asparagus, etc. If I need the pieces a little smaller I’ll go back over with a quick knife through on my own. But for the most part, he can chunk up the perfect size for a good roast in the oven.
3. Put them in charge of the sauce. As I will discuss when we get to the recipe, my favorite way to get food on the table is with an easy prep of the protein and veg paired with a simple dip. Kids love to dip things. And you could simply put ketchup on the table, which I do. Or you can make something delicious and interesting that delights your palate too. Mixing up a sauce seems to be a fail safe step for my kids when they want to help. Dump things into a food processor and let them push the button to start it. Put ingredients into a VERY BIG bowl and give them a whisk. The big bowl helps to keep the mess more contained. Or throw everything into a mason jar, seal it as tight as you can, and let them shake it up. They will love that part.
4. Let them boast with pride. Here is where I share my final Raise Your Mom Game tip for making the dinner table fun. I notice that when I let him help put dinner together, he is more excited to come to the table to share what he made. Is he more likely to eat it? Likely not. But remember, that is not the goal. The goal is to come to the table, to want to be at the table and spend time with the family. When he is proud of his work and can share with us all the steps that went into it, then he is less likely to complain about what is on his plate. You can’t whine about your own creation.
So I let him into my kitchen now. And maybe that’s just one of those small ways we let our kids, with all of their messy tendencies, into our deepest hearts. One meal prep moment at a time.
Boy, this was supposed to be a post about a recipe and somehow it divulged quickly into a heart to heart therapy session. Who is at all surprised by that?
What do you say we share a recipe already!
While I had originally planned on sharing both a sauce and my favorite meal to pair it with, this post is already way too long and I lost half of you way back where I gave a kid a knife anyway. So I’m gonna cut it short with just a sauce recipe today. That just means bonus content coming another day!
As I mentioned before, one of the first things I learned my kids couldn’t really screw up, and ultimately very much enjoyed was sauce making. Now by sauce, I don’t mean Bechamel or Bordelaise or Beurre Blanc. You need something here that doesn’t require technique. A sauce that can’t go wrong by a good shake or whir. I also tend to still do the measuring because oh my goodness children are so bad at this part TOO!! But they feel super powerful when they can hit that button, turn that whisk or shake that jar.
This recipe was one of the first sauces I ever made with kids and it is deeelicous. It’s obvi fantastic over any kind of pasta, equally perfect for dunking roasted veggies and protein (tomorrow’s post!!), and can even stand in as a dip for the after snack/pre-dinner whining when they are STARVING and just might nosh on veggies. Also technically it’s vegan, but I don’t want that to scare anyone away. That word tends to be polarizing. Let’s just say if you like to cut back on dairy, you’ll feel good about slathering this one all over your eggs in the morning. We’re talking versatility here.
(Technically Vegan) Kale Pesto
adapted from Pinch of Yum
2 cups packed Kale (I also sub in Spinach and it is equally yummy)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cloves garlic, crushed
1/3 cup cashews (or try almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts. All good but cashews make it the creamiest.)
1/4 teaspoon salt (I often add more.)
juice of one lemon (I do half and taste first because sometimes lemons have different amounts of juice.)
Add everything to a food processor. Blend until preferred consistency. Taste and see what is missing. As I said, I usually add more lemon and salt.
Want to try more sauces? Here are some other favorites.
That Green Sauce (And also another great Raise Your Mom Game tip!)
All purpose stir fry sauce (Just tried this one this weekend and it’s a hit. Not for dipping but a great one to have on hand for using up veggies. And have kids shake for you. Also, whole30/paleo/sugar free/gluten free if that’s your thing.)
Peruvian Green Sauce (Not at all healthy but you’re gonna want to slather this one on ev.rrr.ee.thang. Keep the chilies out for heat sensitive kids.)
Dump Ranch (Another great paleo friendly dip. This one is fun for kids to try out the immersion blender, with your help of course. Sheesh. That could end badly.)