This time of year I get especially reminiscent of my childhood and how truly wonderful the holidays are. Now with three young children and a family of my own, recreating these most sacred memories and experiences for them is always on my mind.
Our mission “to keep heirlooms alive for another generation” rings true in my head as we plan to get together with family, cook the same recipes we’ve been enjoying for years and years, and knock out holiday tradition after tradition as if our very lives depended on each one.
Hot off a “Thanksgiving” photo shoot last week where I cooked from scratch nearly every family recipe in my arsenal, it reminded me the importance of bringing children into the kitchen, early and often. Many calls to Mom were made to ensure I was getting the details just right - a dash here, a pinch there.
Ironically, I just read this article from Jamie Oliver too, where he cited just 12% of parents are cooking daily with their children in the kitchen. I'm not shy about the fact that I have #3fourandunder so I totally get that this can be challenging, but I'm challenging you to make it a priority, for so many reasons.
Children's eating habits are established so early, so much more so than I ever realized prior to having kids of my own. And even today, the foods I fall back on are the ones that I grew up enjoying as a child - so one who grows up on fast food is sure to have a long road ahead. And of course to give nod to my personal mission, if we don't learn the skills of made-from-scratch cooking and how to master our own family recipes, they will die off with the current generation.
And so, here are a few of my tips for involving your own children in the kitchen to ensure these family recipes carry on in all their glory, for the holidays and beyond!
Schedule it in.
I mention again those #3fourandunder and the constant challenges we all face of trying to get it all done in a mere 24 hours. So when the witching hour hits and everyone is fussy and hungry, it's easy to clear the decks and knock out the quickest option available.
Scheduling time to include your children in the kitchen tasks makes it a lot easier to accomplish, says this list-maker. Sometimes breakfast is actually a better time of day for their fresh minds (and hungry bellies) to participate, or perhaps it's that free weeknight evening when you don't have any team practices every Wednesday. Mentally keeping it in the back of your mind, or literally on your calendar, helps be sure they get their fix.
Patience is a Virtue.
Like I said, sometimes it's not easy but keeping a calm and patient mind about including the kids keeps a positive spirit for everyone. Start with easy, age-appropriate tasks like gathering ingredients from the pantry or a spoon from the drawer that you know will be mess-free and easy to master. They'll feel included, accomplished and get their dose of kitchen little by little. Save the big, messy projects like cookie making, pouring or mixing for a Saturday project when you have more time. And, as the old saying goes "don't cry over spilled milk," so remind them to be patient too!
Tell the Tale.
Much like a great children's story at bedtime, storytelling in the kitchen is a great way to engage and excite the kids about the experience. Whether the tale is educating and informing them about a skill, or about your first time doing this very same task, helping them to further connect to food and cooking will instill the same lifelong passion in their own hearts.
I also love telling stories about family members when we are cooking family recipes so my kids can relate to the great aunts or grandparents that they never had the pleasure of meeting. You can even pull out the photo album and share a picture of "great grandma" as you whip up her famous pot roast recipe, and it's especially fun to see them enjoying the dish we just made together knowing they have a little connection there now in their little brains.
Tools of the Trade.
Our little ones all started in Montessori school and I couldn't be more of a believer in this "life skills" approach to learning. Arming your kiddos with the right tools to be successful in the kitchen is another important way to ensure they enjoy it along the way.
It's amazing how young you can start having little helpers perform even the tiniest tasks, and how they can truly tackle jobs bigger than you would imagine. Making things accessible in the kitchen, such as mixing bowls in a low drawer or having a step stool so they can reach the counter comfortably can make all the difference. Pint-sized wooden spoons that perfectly fit their tiny hands, or mini matching aprons that are both cute and make cleanup a breeze, all help ensure your children will be equipped to mimic and assist you, with a self-driven interest in doing it themselves. And of course, the greatest tool you can arm them with is confidence.
Masters of their Own Domain.
One of the greatest things children can learn in the kitchen (ie: life) these days is independence. Giving them the opportunity to master tasks and completely own a part of the recipe process helps them feel the contribution, pride and ownership of providing for the family. Cracking the eggs, cutting with a knife or placing the pan in the oven are a kind of rites of passage in the kitchen, so allowing them to progress (safety allowing) is a sort of modern day trophy in my opinion.
At the heart of including your kids in the kitchen, like anything with kids, is the element of fun. The process is meant to be a part of your daily life, not an added stress to your day, or theirs for that matter.
Those who love food and cooking don't look at it as a chore but instead as a luxury. Let them taste along the way, let them experience the little joys of trying an ingredient for the first time or being the first allowed to enjoy the finished product. When you sit down to the dinner table to eat your meal, let them share which parts they helped with for this meal. Thank them for helping and for their contribution, and celebrate the fact that they've mastered a new dish or skill publicly for the whole family to hear.
These little moments will stick with them and one day they'll be right back in the kitchen with their own children doing the very same thing. Trust me, I know from experience.
Love to know what little things you do to bring your kids into the kitchen and process of cooking in your own kitchen #heirloomed.