406dad: Cooking with Kids
While the stereotypical picture of fathers teaching their kids how to use tools in the garage or backyard is more commonplace in modern family life, the advent of seeing more men in the kitchen has become far more prevalent in recent decades. Cooking with the kids is a fantastic bonding experience which teaches important life skills, perhaps more than learning about tools!
Patience is often required as some recipes can be complex, but the best learned outcome of the experience is usually the experimentation in the process. What flavors go with what? Is the precise temperature in the recipe really required? What is the difference between stirring and mixing? And can I put chocolate on my pizza?
Often the best place to start is homemade pizza creations. If I don’t have a batch of sourdough starter, those prepared crusts from the grocery store such as Boboli work fine for beginners. Just lay out a cornucopia of ingredients on a table and let them have at it. For sauces, include a traditional tomato style, but also add a white sauce and even barbecue sauce. A Costco sized bag of shredded mozzarella is usually enough for four or five pizzas. Then go wild – pepperoni, hamburger, chicken, turkey, ham, olives, onions, bacon, pineapple, shrimp(?), spinach and even peanut butter (don’t ask). The selection and thinking behind the combinations is the whole experience – taste often takes a back seat when kids are given free reign.
Another easy cooking experience that has some similarities to pizza is nachos. Perhaps not as many ingredient options and likely an easier task, but it’s one the older kids can probably do themselves. I particularly like this choice as it often serves as a gateway drug to a life of spicy foods – one of life’s essential necessities. Cooking often brings a world of cultural learning as the kids are exposed to ethnic cooking from various locales around the planet.
Things got a little more complex when one of the kids asked if we could make Chick-fil-A sandwiches as there is not a unit of this enormously popular and tasty chicken sandwich restaurant in Missoula, Montana. However, Google has an answer for everything and there are countless recipes and instructions on how to make homemade Chick-fil-A sandwiches. Although most recipes follow a traditional fried chicken sandwich, the two keys for a legitimate Chick-fil-A sandwich are to marinate the breasts in pickle juice (yes!) for over an hour and to fry the breaded chicken in peanut oil. The lessons in this experience are not necessarily the creativity of cooking, but the recognition that something the kids don’t like (pickle juice) can greatly enhance something they love. The last lesson in this undertaking is frying something in hot oil. Probably best left to older kids and adults, but a new experience none the less.
Lastly, kids love creating their own desserts. Cookie making and cake baking adventures could take up more space than this blog allows, but if you’re fortunate enough to live in a cold-weather environment, nothing beats snow ice cream. Grab some clean snow from your backyard and add to a mixture of milk, granulated sugar, vanilla extract and a touch of salt. But let the kids’ creative minds go wild – have them add some chocolate syrup, cinnamon, sprinkles, honey and fresh fruit. The experiments on this adventure usually don’t go awry like a pizza combo may, because it’s snow and sugar!
The internet is full of creative cooking ideas for children. I’ve always liked the Food Network website. Cooking With Kids is a great non-profit organization that “educates and empowers children and families to make healthy food choices through hands-on learning with fresh, affordable foods”.