This article was originally published in the Chronicle Herald's weekly community papers and has been republished here with their permission.
I recently found out that my four-year-old daughter knows how to make pancake batter (from scratch) by herself. She knows what ingredients she needs, the measuring tools to gather, and what order everything goes in the bowl. She learned how to do it at her grandparents’ house.
After hearing about this my mind immediately jumped to an image of myself relaxing with a glass of wine while my kids whip up dinner. I reached out to Wendy McCallum, a Halifax nutrition consultant and author of two cookbooks for families, to see if she had any tips on how soon this fantasy could become a reality. She gently told me there were a couple skills they’d need to master first.
“Part of raising healthy eaters means giving kids at least the basic skills they need to cook and the education as to why it’s so important to eat real food,” McCallum explains. “If we can instill a little joy and love of cooking in the process, even better!”
McCallum runs a Healthy Family Program that includes interactive kids sessions and she focuses on teaching families how to use real ingredients while cooking. The easy access kids have today to pre-made and fast foods has been linked to childhood obesity and Type II Diabetes and she believes getting kids comfortable in the kitchen is a big step towards combating that.
She gave me a list of tips to get started with kids of any age that includes hands-on tasks such as washing produce and stripping stems, grating cheese and veggies with a box grater, measuring ingredients and mixing everything up. She says part of the learning process should also include setting the table, washing dishes and emptying the dishwasher.
Being involved in choosing the menu, with a few healthy guidelines (such as a certain number of vegetables and proteins) can also lead to more confidence in the kitchen.
“Give them the opportunity to plan a healthy meal, and you’ll be amazed at how much more involved they’ll want to be in its preparation,” she says. “They can then make a grocery list, find what they need with you at the store, come home, prepare the meal and even serve it in style.”
Young children can’t read recipes but McCallum says that doesn’t mean they can’t learn the steps to make some foods independently, such as toast, sandwiches, smoothies or supervised basic stovetop cooking of items such as hard-boiled eggs.
“Get a recipe binder going for each child, with the recipes they have mastered and the ones they want to try, and their notes on how they liked it, and what they might change next time,” she says.
I’ve got my daughter signed up for some cooking classes at the local grocery store now and I have been involving her and her brother in the meal prep occasionally since. Fingers crossed that before I know it I’ll be living my dream. Until then, anyone know what type of wine pairs best with pancakes?