A Slice of the Pie: A little messy, but… Getting kids into the kitchen well worth the effort

September 2021 Posted in Uncategorized

Melissa Wagoner – A Slice of the Pie

Sarah DeSantis has been cooking with her son, Oliver, since he was a toddler. 

“I grew up with home cooked meals and want my kids to learn to cook and eat in the same way,” DeSantis said when asked what inspired her to teach such a young child to cook. “It’s also something I enjoy doing. So, to be able to include my kids in the cooking and baking process gives us more time together.”

Because, although it was originally just DeSantis and Oliver in the kitchen, the lessons have recently expanded, with younger brother, Linden – two and a half – helping to fill pots, add simple ingredients and give things a stir. 

“He wants to be a part of the action in the kitchen, too, but he has a much shorter attention span,” DeSantis said.

Keeping track of two young helpers can make dinnertime hectic though, as DeSantis readily admits, but to her mind the skills the boys are learning are so valuable it’s worth the extra hassle. 

“They’re always going to need to eat, and I want them to know how to make things from scratch, rather than out of the box,” DeSantis said. “Cooking also offers so many opportunities to learn about science, math, reading, artistry, and patience… so many lessons on patience (both my own and my kids’).”

It’s not easy, finding the time and fortitude to teach kids to cook, but it is important, according to Zelma Cannon, who taught Home Economics at Silverton High School for over 30 years.

“Cooking is a way to bond with kids that isn’t competitive,” Cannon said. “And if you put a happy face on it, it can be whatever you want it to be. We just need to let go of the perfectionism and remember, mistakes are OK.”

DeSantis’ son, Oliver, agrees, noting that part of the fun of learning to cook has been found in experimentation. 

“I like to use a recipe with instructions and I like to make up my own,” he said. 

And DeSantis is onboard, even allowing her son to try his hand at making an entire, largely experimental meal. 

“One night, I had just walked in the house from work. Oliver was in the kitchen, and, in jest, I asked, ‘Who’s making dinner?’” DeSantis recalled. “He promptly replied, ‘Me!’ and set straight to gathering his ingredients.”

Bananas, black olives, hot dog buns, soy milk and hot dogs – all of his favorite things – joined each other on the kitchen counter. Then Oliver set to work, creating what he referred to as a “salad.”

“I wanted to intervene, but I decided to let him do his thing,” DeSantis said. “He needed help opening the can of olives, but he did everything else on his own: he cut the banana into slices and added them to the bowl, added some olives, and topped it off with soy milk. He gave it a good mix and then dished up four bowls of ‘salad’…”

Upon tasting his creation, Oliver was the first to admit it wasn’t quite what he had expected. 

“I didn’t like the way it tasted,” he admitted. “I think I put too much olives and too much banana and too much milk in there and that’s why it didn’t taste very good.”

But in his view, delicious or not, the meal was a success because he learned something and he got his dad – who doesn’t like olives – to try some. 

Which is another reason teaching children to cook is important – it encourages them to try new things. 

“Kids eat better when they make it themselves,” Cannon – who, although she is retired, is still teaching kids to cook once a week at Silverton Christian Preschool – said. Noting that, although many of the three to five-year-olds she now works with look askance at the ingredients, they are almost always willing to give the food they make a try – even if they still don’t like the results.

“One day we did deviled eggs,” Cannon recalled. “And this kid took a bite and said, ‘Teacher Zelma, are you sure we got these right?’ I just love that they’re so dang honest!”

Cannon also likes the pride the children take in the food they make. 

“I’ve always been a strong believer in self-esteem,” she noted. “That’s what potlucks are all about, showing off your stuff.”

Involving kids in the cleanup is also a good way of introducing them to the complete process of meal preparation, from beginning to end.

“I usually start by asking Oliver to help me gather the ingredients and tools we’ll need,” DeSantis said of her own teaching methods. “If we’re following a recipe, we sometimes take turns with each step. Some things are harder for him to do, but I try to let him give it a go and then ask for help.”

DeSantis is also slowly adding in new and more challenging lessons as she sees that Oliver is ready.

“I really enjoy having the kids in the kitchen with me…most of the time,” DeSantis smiled. “There are times, though, when I’m in a rush to get a meal on the table and [Oliver] asks to help. I know having a learning helper is going to slow the process, so that stresses me out a little. But I don’t want to squash his will to learn and help, so I take a deep breath and carry on. It’s those times when my own patience is tested; I’m working on letting go of some control in the kitchen.”

It’s a hard job, but worth it, Cannon acknowledged. 

Getting Kids in the Kitchen:

• Involve them in meal prep early on – Let them pick the vegetable. Discuss the food groups. Walk them through what you’re doing as you cook.

• Give them time. Make it fun.

• Expect a mess but let them help clean it up.

• Assess ability beforehand.

• Plan ahead with simple, easy to read recipes and all of the ingredients.

• Get them ready – Pull hair back, don aprons and wash hands.

• Go over food hygiene – What to wash and how and what must be cooked before eating. 

• Talk it through – Read the whole recipe together.

• Start simple – washing, pouring, measuring, stirring, peeling, greasing pans and mashing potatoes. As well as, loading the dishwasher, sweeping and wiping down counters.

• Give them space to explore – But stay nearby
for safety.

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