The Kitchen: Where Kids Learn of Living
For many families, the kitchen has become the living room. A lot of time is spent there cooking, eating and doing homework at the table.
It also can be a great place for family fun, communication and education.
“The kitchen is the heart of a home,” says Lynn Fredericks, the author of “Cooking Time Is Family Time” (William Morrow) and a columnist on family food for StarChefs.com and Disney’s Family.com.
A child is never too young to get acclimated to the kitchen, she says. Even an infant will be intrigued by watching a parent prepare dinner, particularly if the parent explains each step along the way. (“Mommy is now stirring the soup.”)
The child will begin absorbing valuable information about food and healthful eating just by hanging around and eventually joining the process. And the greater the variety of foods kids are exposed to, the more they’ll like, Fredericks adds.
Sophie Flay, 4-year-old daughter of Manhattan chef Bobby Flay, has grown up eating “everything,” according to her father. Her favorite meal now is mussels with pasta--although the two components must be served in separate bowls.
“Don’t assume kids won’t like a food. Sophie loves salty things like capers and olives, which aren’t typical ‘kid’ foods. We found out by trial and error. If you don’t do that, the parents are limiting themselves,” says Flay, the chef-owner of Mesa Grill and Bolo.
And, he says, a child’s willingness to eat a variety of foods means he or she can probably go to restaurants and be happy. “I can take Sophie anywhere, to any restaurant,” says the proud father.
(Most restaurants that are remotely child-friendly will cook up a plate of pasta and butter for a finicky kid, according to Flay.)
The fragrance and bright colors of fresh food can be very inviting to youngsters, says Joan Cirillo, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cooking With Kids” (Alpha Books).
Children who develop an appreciation for nutritious, homemade foods will likely end up bypassing much of the processed foods that aren’t nearly as healthy, Cirillo says. These children also are likely to have less of a weight problem, she adds.
“Food education isn’t something parents pay much attention to, but it’s important,” Fredericks says. “We teach them to eat their food but not about food.”
Both Fredericks and Cirillo say the burden falls on parents to first educate themselves and then share their knowledge.
The key to keeping children interested--as with most at-home lessons--is to make it fun.
“I think kids inherently love to cook. It’s an extension of playing in the sandbox and mud pies,” Cirillo says.
Start off by asking your children to combine ingredients in a bowl or to help set the table.
Cupcakes, pastas and egg dishes are good starters for pint-size chefs, although they will need assistance when it comes to applying heat, according to Flay.
Older children can even be left in charge of planning and preparing a meal.
Making dinner, even if it’s with help from a parent, will certainly give children a sense of pride and boost their self-esteem, Cirillo says.