Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What I learned about Kids in the Kitchen from my kids...

Want healthy children? Teach them to cook.

I’m serious!

As I write we have just announced ‘Kids In The Kitchen’ a hands-on summer cooking camp for children, preteens and teens. A 10 day course designed to teach serious cooking skills with a balanced curriculum of fun and learning. I’ve been working on this course for 2 years, I’ve wanted to do it ever since I started the studio. This year I promised myself I would do it. And then, my son actually made it happen. By opening my eyes to how I was hobbling him by being overprotective. And as I researched and planned I came to learn so much about the positive aspects of Kids learning to cook...

As a mother, the one thing I want for my children is healthy, happy lives. And because I know that a large part of their health will result from good eating habits, my husband and I have worked towards steering them in that direction by ensuring minimal junk food in the home, and trying to do stuff with them in the kitchen to encourage awareness. So we did lots of cooking projects, under strict supervision, assembling pizzas, making cupcakes and the like. But we never really let them cook.

I'm an (un-apologetically) paranoid mother who has technicolor nightmares of things going wrong. So I usually choose to be safe over sorry. And the idea of letting my kids anywhere near the gas or electric appliances with all the dangers... I figured someday when they were old enough (read 21) I would sit my kids down, hammer every safety precaution in existence into them, gift them a fireproof suit and allow them to cook eventually. But a few weeks ago, an incident took place to show me how naive this blinkered outlook was.

Our children watch us. And they want to emulate us. With Shekhar and me being involved with food to the point of obsession and our kitchen studio being in focus 24/7, it was inevitable that our kids would eventually start chafing at the bit to cook. So our son, Aman, announced one day that he wanted to learn to cook. And with uncanny luck or immense talent, baked almost perfect bread from day one! 3 days down the line, he decided he wanted to make chocolate fondants. We told him to slow down, not be so ambitious; dissuaded him saying they were too advanced. We thought we had made our point clear and stepped out to run errands.

Only to find on our return, that we had not. As soon as we entered the house, we smelled something burning. He’d put the oven to preheat and forgotten to empty it of the tins and mittens stored inside! We averted a potential disaster and Aman had made the best fondants I had ever eaten. I was proud but more than that I was terrified! What if something had gone wrong?!

As I helped him serve up his fondants, I could not help remembering when he announced he was old enough to walk to school on his own. I STILL have palpitations when he walks out of the door alone. But I remember telling myself I had to let him go. How else would he learn? And then I thought to myself, now I had to let him do this, how else would he learn to cook if he didn’t make mistakes, have accidents, burn food, under cook things! That after all is the principle I believe in for the studio too! But, I could help him do things right, and we could teach him to be safe.

So things have changed at home. We still do cooking sessions, but I don’t hold back on the experience. First of all, we cook real food. Proper meals, albeit, fun ones. And the kids have to do everything. They cut and chop, wash and prep chicken (which they did not like but had to do) and they cook and clean up after. And I have seen some great changes in them. What a disservice we do to our children by not letting them cook!

   Children who cook, develop a stronger connect to food, are more open-minded to it and acquire lifelong habits. My daughter, Natasha discovered Kiwi after a Kiwi cooking session she attended. One day, she helped me crumb chicken strips. Until then she’d refused to eat chicken but that day she tasted it and loved it! She now eats many other chicken dishes including biryani and kebabs as well. Involving children in everyday cooking — picking out good produce at the market, plucking curry leaves from the plant, helping in decision making for menus — greatly increases the chance that they will try the finished dish that comes from these processes.

     Cooking helps children make healthy choices. Oh I am not saying that they’ll become paragons of virtue overnight. We’re not fanatic about it (I fantasize I’m super mom, but pizza and burgers are my kryptonite!) but our home has been relatively food free for 4 years now.  The conditioning of healthy versus unhealthy pays off. More and more my kids make the healthy choice. Fruit over fried food, homemade bread over store bought, water or juice over aerated drinks.  As children learn to cook, vital information like differentiation between healthy and unhealthy, nutritional content of food, food preparation and calorie information gets imbibed.

     Cooking helps children understand things they learn at school. Do the math! It’s almost impossible to cook without some core curriculum of what is taught at school coming in. Whether you’re picking colours for fruit and vegetables, talking about origins of foods, reading recipes, weighing things, totalling up spends, Halving recipes or just measuring out ingredients, cooking help children make practical application - in the real world – to curriculum and learn that it’s not as abstract as they think!

   Cooking helps build confidence. Aman, my son, is quite shy. Soon after he turned 14 he began baking voraciously and generously, for his friends and family. What’s great is that he has also picked up the remaining habits from his dad – cleaning up after himself, putting things away. And he helps at mealtimes too, laying the table, clearing up. Cooking instils pride in children. They can take care of themselves, perhaps even a sibling. They’re capable, they know what to do, and can get it done. And if you are worried about your kids making a mess in the kitchen, there is a simple solution... teach them to clean up as well!

       And imagine a hungry teen, secure enough in the kitchen, to put a few ingredients into a simple meal, a quick stir-fry or some leftover rice with whatever is in the fridge. While his non-cooking peer has to rummage for whatever ready options can be eaten straight out of a box or bag. Every time Aman bakes bread and brings it to me with a smile, I am proud, but I also am happy that he is fed for life! Whatever else he soes or doesn’t do, he will always eat well.

Children who cook become children who taste. Who eat well. Who say “I can,” not “I can’t.” Teaching our children to cook helps prepare them for the future. It will empower them when necessity or circumstances call them to cook their own food. Cooking is a basic life skill every child should be taught!

GYAN and Links
Want healthy children? Teach them to cook. OR send them to me!
For information on my Kids in The Kitchen courses in April. More rounds to come! 

 For Kids.

For Teens

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