Monday, June 20, 2016

The Little Chef- Thoughts on Cooking and Parenting

We had a beautiful, relaxing Father's Day yesterday and I hope you did too. V and Lila, with Duncan in tow, started the day with leisurely morning walk to our neighborhood bakery to share a chocolate croissant. Later, we met up with friends at a board game cafe and spent the afternoon playing everything from Scrabble to Hungry, Hungry Hippo and Candyland, a very enjoyable and novel way to celebrate the amazing dads in our life.

Lately, Lila has taken over as the new sous chef here at the One Hot Stove world headquarters. What her resume lacks in experience is compensated in her enthusiasm. Every afternoon, this child comes home from preschool, bursts through the kitchen door and demands to know what we're cooking for dinner. She wants to participate in every step of the process, to touch and taste and smell everything. Often she will end up eating handfuls of raw veggies, boiled noodles, nuts and other ingredients even before they get put into the meal, and then she's almost too full for dinner- and frankly, that's fine by me.

Some of her favorite kitchen activities at this age are peeling and slicing hard boiled eggs, slicing tomatoes and avocados (with a hard plastic knife), juicing lemons, making lemonade, stirring ingredients together for granola, spinning down salad greens and yes, stirring things on the stove even as I stand by watching a bit nervously. Making ghee is possibly her favorite activity ever, but that has everything to do with getting to eat the caramelized brown bits left over after straining the ghee.

We don't follow recipes unless we're making baked goodies- this is just everyday cooking, and it is fun to see her developing an instinct for cooking, like knowing how to season a salad correctly with pinches of salt and grinds of pepper, without having to measure anything, and learning how to put together a simple meal from whatever we have on hand in the pantry and fridge.

There are other kitchen tasks that Lila does too- setting the table with napkins (we use dish towels from IKEA as napkins), water glasses and utensils, and helping to unload the dishwasher. Kitchen tasks involve all sorts of learning- math skills, sorting, matching, motor skills, sensory stimulation- not to mention the confidence gained from contributing to family life and being responsible for a job.

We were visiting the home of a relative with grown kids, and she remarked that her kids never learned to cook because their evenings were too busy with activities like soccer, piano and martial arts. "But what activity could be more important than cooking", I said, and she chuckled thinking I was being facetious. But I was dead serious. We all have to eat every day and it is really hard to eat in a way that's both tasty and nourishing (and budget-friendly, especially when you're starting out in life as a young person on your own) if you don't know how to cook.


“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I can't remember at all where I first heard or read this quote but it has resonated strongly with me for several months. (I just looked up the quote and it is from Peggy O'Mara.) This is a powerful way to repeat "mantras" that you believe in, and that you want your child to internalize as guidelines through life. The everyday routine of cooking and eating dinner provides so many opportunities for talking about values, priorities, manners, habits, attitude, gratitude. Here are some of the things I find myself saying over and over again. (And truthfully, these are helpful reminders for myself and not just for the kid.)

"Eat until your tummy is happy" is a way to get Lila to listen to her body's cues of when she is no longer hungry, when her hunger is satisfied.

"In our family, we don't waste food" is a general, gentle reminder to treat food with care, to serve yourself a reasonable portion, to not fling food around. We don't believe in the clean plate club. There's no guilt for not finishing the food on a plate- but it does not end up in the trash either. It just goes into a container to be eaten at a later time.

"You can say 'yes, please' or 'no, thank you'"- this is a reminder that when we are offered any food at any time by anybody, we can say yes or no politely, no questions asked. Responses such as "eww", "yucky", "it smells gross" or "I hate that" are not OK. There's no need for tiresome explanations of why you won't or can't eat something. Eat it or don't eat it, but always respect the food and just move on.

"The kitchen is closed" is a reminder to not leave the dinner table too early and then keep asking for snacks as bedtime nears.

"What's mama's number 1 job? My number 1 job is to keep you safe and healthy"- this is my usual reason for saying no to any number of requests- mostly about putting reasonable limits on sweet treats in a sugar-saturated culture.

Did you hang around the kitchen as a kid? Do your kids like to cook with you? 

Tomorrow is the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and I hope you have a good one! And warm and cozy winter wishes to my friends in the Southern half of the planet.  

30 comments:

  1. Excellent post nupur. I've been reading ur blog for almost 10 yrs (??), but this is the first time I am commenting. My son is 2 and always in the kitchen playing with pots and pans. He's not old enough to help me in cooking but will definitely encourage him in future. People think it's not necessary for children to learn cooking, how wrong are they. Well I don't wish to be judge mental but you are doing a great job. Best wishes!!

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    1. Hi Sala- Isn't it funny how kids ignore toys and want to play with pots and pans instead? Best wishes to you and your little guy- you'll have lots of fun cooking with him.

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  2. Hi Nupur,
    Another thoughtful, sensible post. As much as I try not to judge anyone, I do get irritated when people proudly tell me they cannot cook.. Everyone has to eat, if only to survive and being able to cook some basic meals is a life skill. You don't have to become a passionate chef but you do need to know how to nourish yourself. My kid is a bit domineering and likes to rush in and do things before I can teach him so we sometimes argue in the kitchen! However, he's growing more and more interested every day and I am determined he will be a self-sufficient cook. We go to the farmer's market together, he spins greens and I am teaching him to make simple breakfasts. You are right, it teaches them so much more than just cooking, though that in itself is a great thing.
    Like you, I read that quote recently and cannot get it out of mind. So simple and so true.

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    1. Agreed, Amber- no one has to bake three layer cakes unless they want to, but the ability to put together basic meals is a must and I would feel like I didn't do my job as a parent if I did not teach my child that much.

      That quote is so helpful for me- it is helping me to watch my tone and watch my words because they carry more weight than we realize!!

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  3. Very meaningful and relevant post! I never cooked (or did much in the kitchen) until a month before leaving to US for my studies. That one month, my mom tried to teach me cooking basics, which I grudgingly learnt. Staying alone, struggling to cook fast and efficiently was difficult. But necessity is the mother of all inventions, and I did learn to feed myself.
    With our almost 3 year old, we do plan on making him involved in household chores. Few weeks back, I involved him in making the choco fudge popsicles you had posted. He was so excited, stirring all the ingredients, putting the mixture in the molds. He was doubly excited in eating the pops he helped mama make. :) Apart from that, he cracks and stirs his own egg for breakfast everyday. I do feel its important for kids to learn cooking and other household chores. Esp. boys, because ours is a culture where guys are generally not hands on in the house (though it is changing slowly).

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    1. It is great that you were able to learn cooking when the need arose- but how much better to make it a natural and fun part of our kids' upbringing so they're ready long before they need to fend for themselves. I'm so glad your son enjoyed making pops- yes, boys and girls both need to eat, so both need to know how to cook :) I am fortunate that both my dad and husband are ahead of their times and completely at ease with household chores- although neither cooks on a regular basis, but that's simply situational since someone else likes to do the regular cooking :)

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  4. Awesome post!


    Angel

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  5. Loved this, Nupur, and it just served to strengthen my admiration for you. You have your head, heart and priorities all in the right place. Lila is lucky to have a mamma like you :)

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    1. Gosh Kamini, you're too kind- I do try but this parenting thing is a tough gig!

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  6. My two daughters did the same thing; nibbling on all the veggies and then being too full to eat more than a bite or two at the dinner table. Their plates were covered and placed in the fridge until they were hungry later. The boys learned to cook but it was more formal for some reason.

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    1. Hi Judy- yes, and I myself am known to stand over the stove and eat half the sheet pan of roasted veggies before it even hits the table, so I identify ;)

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  7. Bless you Nupur and Lila and V that's all I can say after reading this

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  8. Lovely post. I love hearing about people and their kids - your mantras are great - I have mantras about trying things many times and not having to eat everything but at least try and eat some of the things on the plate (wish they were such neat mantras as yours). I have been pleased that sylvia is starting to read recipes and suggesting things to make - though she is more interested in sweet recipes.

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    1. Johanna- I love reading your blog and you and Sylvia definitely have a lot of fun in the kitchen together!

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  9. I loved your post Nupur. What an excellent way to teach kids one of the life's essential skill. Waiting to read many such posts from you.

    Sushma

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    1. Thank you Sushma- yes, essential life skill is just what it is.

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  10. I loved, loved, loved this post:-) So true all of the truisms you listed here are for our family too. I began getting V involved in food prep a bit older than Lila is now and mainly we began with desserts since that's what initially got his enthu going given they'd sometimes make cookies at school and plus not to mention general enthu for anything sugary:-) But now at 12 he helps me put together a proper 4 course dinner for the family very proudly. For some reason our daily talks are peppered with a huge percentage of folklorish wisdom about food than anything else occurring in the world. Last year we began taking care of my mom who diabetes and the talks took on a even more health oriented tone. He learnt all about the GI index and what foods she could and couldn't eat and even appointed himself as her personal coach when she would act childlike and ask for foods not permitted to her:-) As a result he's become more aware of the choices he and all of us can and should make to be healthier as we age and doesn't ask as much for pizza, candy or cookies as he used to(Hallelujah!! and fingers crossed too)

    Over the past couple of years he also began taking on more household chores albeit at first reluctantly and now as part of his daily routine no questions asked like vacuuming the home, doing the dishwasher task after dinner, taking our dog for walks, doing the washing m/c load on weekends and folding clothes after. I've got myself quite a handyman here am proud to say. The only thing is our friends are always for some reason aghast that I "make him" do these chores when their kids get to play umpteen hours of video games or watch TV:-)

    Deepa

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    1. Deepa- Your son sounds like an awesome kid! There's no "dishwashing fairy" and clean laundry does not fall from the sky, so the way I look at it, life "makes us" do the chores- might as well learn to do them efficiently and cheerfully. Your son will be well-equipped to manage his time and take good care of himself when he goes off into the world.

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  11. Hi Nupur,

    You are such an ideal parent. I look up to you. :) What you have mentioned are such essential but yet simple life lessons.
    Thank you so much for this wonderful blog post.

    Love,

    Ketki

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    1. Ketki- you're very sweet, but there's no ideal parent and certainly I am far from it- just ask Lila ;) but it is something I try to work on.

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  12. hello Nupur,
    It's a topic too close to my heart. I loved reading how Lila enjoys to help and cook in the kitchen and also the reminders.These reminders almost match food rules in my house. you're teaching Lila life skills and that's the best you can do :-)

    Our family enjoys, loves and respects food. Just a day prior to turning 4, my boy asked me if he could turn the stove on from tomorrow and start cooking:-) His favorite food growing up was fried potato curry and he would stand on step stool few steps away from the stove and would ask me to show him when potatoes turned golden brown. hahaha
    Needless to say, he is 13 now and can pretty much cook/bake anything on his own. He prepares his own omelettes, french toasts, boiled eggs, mac-n-cheese, veggie stir fries, tacos, rice, cup cakes etc.My friends find it hard to believe when they see his cooking skills. He does all the prep work and cleans up the dishes after he is done. Now I'm teaching him how to shop veggies,(pick the right ones) and cost $$$ and such.

    Kudos to you for doing a great job raising Lila :-)
    I'd love to hear more of how Lila is progressing with her cooking skills..I'm looking forward to the day when she will have her own food blog :-)

    cheers,
    Meena.

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    1. Meena- How wonderful- I'm loving these stories of tweens and teens who are at home in the kitchen. You are giving your son a wonderful gift- of being self-sufficient and competent to run his own life- in the end, the goal is to kick out these baby birds from the nest and watch them soar, after all.

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  13. How sweet would that be :) A big hug to Lila for helping you in the kitchen.
    I have always wondered how young kids in the Master Chef Junior series do complicated desserts effortlessly. Maybe they started doing them very young.

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    1. Shreem- I'm sure most if not all of these kids had a family member who welcomed them into the kitchen at an early age. Kids are like sponges- they pick up skills so fast if you let them!

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  14. that's so nice of you Nupur to allow Lila to help you in the kitchen when usually most moms shoo them out of their way because they are impatient to guide them.Kudos to you! way to go Lila dear!

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    1. Hi Leila- I will say that having a kid in the kitchen is messier and more time consuming than if I were just cooking by myself, but it is SO worth it for the company, bonding, teaching and sheer fun of it!

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  15. That's such a great post Nupur! Even my 6 year old brings her plastic step stool into the kitchen as soon as she sees me there and perches on the counter top constantly pestering me to "give her a job" or to "give her chopping lessons". She is able to cut potatoes, cauliflower, beans and colored peppers, peel roasted peanuts or blanched almonds and sometimes tries to roll out her own roti. We don't have a dishwasher so I have taught her to rinse her plate before depositing it in the sink. It's super true about starting them early in the kitchen and to show them that these are not chores but enjoyable activities they should proud and happy to do! She proudly tells everyone that today's sabji has potatoes cut by her and eats it more happily! - Mansi

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  16. Hi,

    My lil boy - all of 9 is a big helper... I dont even mind the mess. Its a fun way to connect and to show him that home cooked food is the best and tastiest option out there!!

    Thanks,
    Meenal

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