Children & Cooking: Let them shine

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Cooking and Children - do those words when put together, bring you out in hives?

Cooking with children can push your patience and reserves to the max but really the rewards are many both for you and your child.

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.

- Harriet Van Horne

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Our boys have always helped now and again with cooking but it's only lately that they are taking more responsibility in the kitchen with mealtime choices, food preparation, self-expression and wanting to have an understanding of what they are eating and how their diet can potentially impact their health (for good or bad).

The other big aspect of preparing food is of course, the communal act of eating together.  This has always been extremely problematic for our family since both our boys have High Functioning Autism and mealtimes have been stressful to the say the least - largely due to their over sensitivity to texture, taste, smell and anxiety.

We're only just beginning to enjoy eating together (on occasion) as a family and making progress with helping our boys appreciate the actual sacredness and love that goes into the food preparation along with the very gift of the food itself.

Anyway, my husband and I were to take our turn at serving tea/coffee and cakes at our church service on Sunday (as it happened, Robert hurt his back :( and couldn't come to church).  Time was marching on and I was struggling to find a time slot to cook the required baking items.

Eventually, it was down to necessity - the day before was the only day that the baking could be accomplished.  I was dreading how the day would turn out and how our children would occupy their time whilst I was cooking as they can really struggle if their day isn't 'set out' for them in a predictable way.

After thinking it over, I decided that I would ask them to bake one item each and to see how it went and that if I needed to 'take over' I would.

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The upshot?  I was really glad that I gave them the opportunity to do some cooking a little more independently.  I watched over and assisted where necessary but really I was just overseeing and making sure they were safe.

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Tips for cooking with children

  • If more than one child will be cooking, maybe oversee them separately.
  • Personally, I found it easier to get all the equipment and ingredients together first so that stress levels didn't escalate or boredom set in before they even got started.  This can be tweaked obviously as time goes on.
  • Have them read the recipe or watch a video demo first, so they already have an idea of what's ahead.
  • Talk with your children about where the food has come from and how it's arrived in your kitchen.  This is so important I feel.
  • Give them some room to express their creativity and self-expression ie. cake filling choice, icing colour, meat or fish that's chosen, plates/crockery for the table, pizza toppings.
  • Cooking for the family is wonderful.  However also encourage cooking for others too ie.  a neighbour, local church, school, charity events etc.
  • Make sure that you choose a day that is reasonably uncluttered so that you can be as calm and patient as possible.
  • If things go 'pear shape', try to laugh it off and keep your cool.  Perfectionism isn't welcome here!
  • Of course, all of this is age appropriate and if your child isn't ready for a full-on recipe, let them make fun concoctions that are not for eating.

One of the gifts with doing anything with children is that if you can 'get out of your own head', their excitement of discovery is infectious and their pleasure in what we might call the 'ordinary' has a lesson in there for us all.  Children are sponges and the more you can share with them, the more they blossom (as do you).  They give you 'new eyes' to see.

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things.

- Psalm 119:18 NIV

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Above is the result of Joseph's cooking - some gorgeous Gooey Chocolate and Cherry Cookies.  Let me tell you, they were gorgeous and were flying off the plate at church!

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Benjamin made the Coffee Cream and Walnut Cupcakes above.  He did a great job and particularly liked icing the buns.  We kept a few back for them to pop in with their school packed lunch.

In fact, they both enjoyed cooking so much, that they helped with dinner too - we had stir fry (see below).

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Of course, I don't know why I was surprised at how much they enjoyed the cooking experience.  My eldest son loves maths and enjoys the precision required for the measuring out of ingredients, following a recipe, and then the 'miracle' of the end result etc. all fascinate him.

Our youngest son, loves science and 'inventing' as he calls it.  Isn't that what cooking is after all - inventing?

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I'm convinced that if we share our time/passions/gifts/talents with our children, it opens up so much in their lives too (as well as ours).  Who knows, where moments such as these may lead?

So, why not invite your child, a friend's or perhaps a niece or nephew to cook with you - just watch them shine!