Getting kids to cook

Yesterday, I had my first media interview for Starting From Scratch: What You Need to Know About Food and Cooking, my new book for young people that explores the science, geography, culture and history of food, as well as how to get started in the kitchen. The interviewer asked me what tips I had for parents who wanted to begin cooking with their children. I reflected on my own experiences with my daughters — they are now 6 and 9 and we’ve been cooking together for years–and responded that parents should let their kids lead in the kitchen. That is, let their kids choose the recipe, figure out what they need to make the dish and then organize and steer the process, regardless of mess and slowness. This is not something to do on a Monday night after work when everyone is hungry for dinner!

That night, I tested my own advice on myself — and under less than ideal circumstances. It was 50 minutes until our family dinner time (kids need lots of time to cook even simple meals and this was a first go for them at vegetarian sushi!) and my younger daughter was grumpy. They had both spent the afternoon at their grandparents, sick with a bad cold. They’d watched a kids’ cooking show (they don’t watch a lot of TV so they were really excited by the program) where they saw how you make sushi and wanted to test what they’d learned themselves.

My six year old was adamant about being in charge. Slowly, she started to measure 1 cup of rice by grabbing a fist full from the paper bag. Rice fell everywhere. I wanted to take over the task, but I stopped myself — reluctantly. We put the measuring cup and the rice bag in a wide pan to catch any rice grains before they landed on the floor and prevent more mess. About ten minutes later, she had measured the full cup. She was so in control of the process that she didn’t want me to double check her rice and water measurements and again I reluctantly let her lead — I’m not a pro sushi rice maker and was worried about ratios! She’s only 6! “Can this work?” I asked myself.

But she was so happy washing the rice just like she’d seen on the show and so happy to turn on the stove and watch the pot begin to simmer that her grumpiness went away. Soon enough we were rolling up cucumber and avocado and slicing our maki rolls.

Dinner was only a few minutes late and the two of them spent the entire meal complimenting the food. I was happy I let her lead — even if I had doubts in the process. And learned something about cooking with kids too!

The book tour for Starting from Scratch begins next week…