Back in January I decided to cook with my kids more often, and since it’s May I guess I should finally get around to that. Both of my children love to cook, but I often put them off from helping me in the kitchen, because… well, it’s my domain. I have a process, cooking is meditative, I’m rushed, I like to listen to adult-oriented podcasts, and other self-centered excuses. Finally we came up with a plan for our kids to trade off Sundays, and though we are terrible about sticking to things for very long, so far it’s been completely wonderful.
Willow had the first week. She decided to make beefy mac, her favorite meal, which is “kid food” at its finest — macaroni, tomato sauce, ground beef, and cheese, all mixed up together, with some obligatory vegetable on the side. We hadn’t cooked together in a LONG time, so we were able to start fresh in our kitchen interactions. She helped me shop for ingredients, then chopped the onion, browned the meat, stewed the sauce, cooked the pasta, and shredded the cheese. At the end she was so proud of herself, she impatiently waited another two weeks for her chance to cook again.
This time she took it even more seriously. She flipped through a cookbook considering different recipes before settling on shrimp creole. She made a list of ingredients, and this time completed every step herself. I gave her some pointers on knife skills and talked to her about the trinity, how to eyeball ingredients, how to time the cooking of multiple pots and pans, but she did absolutely every physical step herself — she cooked the rice, chopped the vegetables, did all of the sautéing, prepped the shrimp, set timers, and even cleaned as she went along so she didn’t have a big mess at the end (ahem).
It’s just amazing to watch her do this work. At eight years old she is already comfortable with boiling water, sharp knives, and tricky ingredients. When I was eight I could barely manage to make toast. She has a huge sense of pride and accomplishment that she can do this very adult thing of making a meal for a family from raw ingredients. Probably my favorite moment was when Isaiah came in to check on her and they stood at the stove tasting the sauce together. Isaiah was fidgety with the desire to get in there himself. He marinated and grilled chicken and vegetables with his dad last week, and next week he’ll make potato soup.
This whole process is important for me, too, by challenging me to step back and allow my children to prove their independence. So many times, I want to step in to fix something. I have to figure out how to teach them without just taking the knife or spoon myself. At one point I said to Willow, “See how the top of the sauce is bubbling really hard but it’s not moving much underneath? That might mean that it’s scorching on the bottom.” She grabbed a spatula right away, stirring the pot and saying how much she loved, loved, loved to cook, how she wished she could do ALL of the cooking (I didn’t tell her how much it does feel like a chore after a while!).
My parents tried to teach me basic cooking skills, but I remember it as a short, frustrated process, which is how I left home knowing how to make ramen in a microwave and not much else. I hope that cooking is not something my kids do to please me, or because they feel like they should — they seem to genuinely want to know how to do this, and to be good at it. Of course I love that we share an interest, but I’m also so proud of them for being focused and working hard, whatever it is they’re doing.
(If you’re interested in the recipe Willow made, you can find it here. She added celery, used fire-roasted diced tomatoes instead of stewed, topped the final dish with parsley, and served it with rice.)