Every afternoon when I start making dinner, I’m standing at a fork in the road. I can consider the kitchen my sanctuary, an adults-only island in the midst of toddler chaos. I can put some grown-up music on, pour a glass of wine, and send every question/need/tantrum off to daddy. This is how I’ve made dinner every night for the last 3 years (though not always with the wine), and it definitely has it’s benefits. Cooking is my wind-down time; it’s my hobby, which is why when I started seeing articles and blog posts on the benefits of cooking with your kids I would nod my head in agreement but never actually make the changes. I blew past that other fork in the road without a second look, ignoring the small twinge of guilt as I did so.
Then one day, inspired by a good night’s sleep and an overflowing basil plant, I decided we would make pesto. Just like that, at 11am on a weekday, I was in the kitchen with my girls teaching them how to cook. I told them we were making a special sauce (since “sauce” is one of those magic words that makes them instantly excited) called pesto, and I told them what was in it. Alice looked at the the pile of basil leaves and was amazed that we were going to make food with “flowers”.
Bringing little ones into the kitchen puts them in touch with where their food comes from. They come outside with me every day to water the plants, she’s seen that basil plant a hundred times. But there was a total disconnect between the pots of “flowers” outside the door and the food on our plates. Food doesn’t just appear on the shelves at the supermarket, it takes work and time and resources, and understanding that will discourage a wasteful attitude.
So we made pesto, and when we were finished my girls were bursting with more pride than I thought an almost-3 year old body could hold. Instead of shuttling them out of the kitchen while I cook I asked for their help, and it made them feel capable and valued. They were so engaged and so happy. And, as any mom can attest to, them being happy made me happy. We had so much fun.
The kicker to this whole fantastic experience? My stubborn and infuriatingly picky toddlers (who only a week or two before had turned their nose up at the very same meal) not only ate it, but ate it with the enthusiasm they normally reserve for nuggets and fries.
No, it won’t always be such a warm-fuzzy experience. Kids are unpredictable and sometimes frustrating, and we have our rough days. And I won’t be giving up my adult-only cooking days altogether, because mama needs to unwind and that’s important. But giving Alice and Charlotte a firm understanding of where food comes from, how dinner is made, and what it means to make healthy choices is something that needs to be a priority. And it’s such a source of joy for all of us!