I come from a large Jewish family known for hosting fun and boisterous meals that last for several hours. While I was growing up, my three siblings and I would share the overcrowded table with our cousins and friends while my mom or aunt served a simple homemade meal. We’d all pitch in to help by setting the table or making the salad. We’d tease, talk, fight, negotiate, debate and share our day with each other. Our conversation would start in the kitchen before dinner and would continue long after we’d finished eating.
Our family tradition continues today while the 11 grandkids eat, play and create their own memories. Even when we haven’t seen each other in months, my siblings and cousins still fall into the old habit of helping prepare the meal in the kitchen while we banter and catch up. The evening ends with us sitting around the table drinking tea and trying to outwit each other.
These experiences left such a strong imprint on me that my entire career focuses on recreating them while I teach kids how to cook. There are so many lessons to be learned while working together in the kitchen and sharing a meal together. Some are obvious like learning how to follow directions, improving math skills, and increasing dexterity. Other benefits are less tangible but just as important such as developing a healthy relationship with food and experiencing the joy of feeding others.
When I speak to parents, who are often skeptical that their young kids can learn to cook, I tell them that exposure to “scratch cooking” helps kids develop a mature palate and a taste for fresh, wholesome ingredients. Kids are much more likely to eat what they make because cooking creates a sense of ownership. And meals prepared from scratch are usually much healthier than pre-packaged foods and restaurant meals.
Kids who help out in the kitchen and share family meals are creating lifelong memories that will influence the way they eat for the rest of their lives. Here are some ideas on how to start cooking with your kids:
Pick a good time. It’s important that your first cooking experience with children is a positive one, so pick a time when everyone is well-rested and not starving.
Start with something familiar. When introducing the concept of cooking to kids, it’s important to start with one of their favorite dishes so that they equate cooking with something they already enjoy.
Find assistants. Invite Grandma over or keep your sitter for an extra hour. It’ll be more fun for everyone if there is someone else to help oversee the project and clean up.
Accept that it will get messy. Plan on some mess and you’ll feel less stressed. Kids are great cleaner-uppers so ask them to pitch in. Many kids, as young as 2 years old, love using a sponge and do a surprisingly good job of wiping up.
Roll with the punches. If something goes wrong, just laugh. It’s a good opportunity to teach children how to shrug off mistakes and learn from their blunders.
Praise their efforts. They adore making food for family members so give them lots of compliments when they complete a task well – genuine, well deserved praise builds self-worth and confidence.
I’ve been teaching this dish to parents and kids for years and it’s a hit every time! The best part is that it takes only minutes to prepare and be served warm or cold.
One 15-ounce can black beans (or 2 cups cooked)
2 cups corn kernels (fresh; frozen and thawed; or canned)
2-3 tablespoons red onion, finely diced
¼ teaspoon garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
8-10 flour tortillas (or corn for gluten-free eaters)
Optional: minced jalapeño pepper or pinch of chili powder, cotija or feta cheese
KIDS 8 and up: Clean off the top of the canned beans (and canned corn, if using). Open the
can and drain the liquid. Rinse the beans off in a colander and drain well. Combine the beans
and the corn in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
KIDS 2 and up: Add the onion and garlic to the beans and corn. In a small bowl, whisk the
oil and the lemon juice together and pour over the bean mixture. Stir to combine. Season with
salt and pepper. Fold in the cilantro (or serve it separately for picky eaters) and stir. Let the
salad stand for 15 minutes (or up to 1 day in the fridge) to allow flavors to blend. Add to flour tortillas along with optional ingredients.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Recipes from Easy Meals to Cook with Kids by Julie Negrin © 2010
Julie Negrin, M.S., is a certified nutritionist, cooking instructor, and author of Easy Meals to Cook with Kids. She is currently the Director of Education and Learning Strategies at The Sylvia Center and has been teaching children how to cook for fourteen years. Julie spent five years as the Director of Culinary Arts at the JCC in Manhattan and has appeared on Sesame Street, CBS Nightly News with Katie Couric, and the Today Show with Al Roker. Julie has a blog, My Kitchen Nutrition on her website, www.julienegrin.com.