One of the ways we could change America from fearful to cheerful would be if more schools started doing the Free-Range Kids Project. That’s the deal whereby the teachers tell the students to go home and ask their parents if they can do ONE THING that they feel they are ready to do, that for one reason or another they just haven’t done yet: Walk to school. Ride their bike to a friend’s house. Or…make dinner. I describe the project here.
…I’ve been cooking with parents and kids for nearly two decades. While I’ve never had a child get hurt in my kitchen or at one of my demos or classes, I have met many parents who are so consumed with worry that they unintentionally drive their kids out of the kitchen.
The most upsetting example of this was when I was teaching a group of teenagers at an after-school program in the District how to prepare a healthy dinner. One boy was so proud that I was letting him dice raw sweet potatoes with a long sharp knife (which you know is not an easy task if you’ve ever tried it). However, his mom walked in mid-potato and, surprised and scared, screamed at him to stop. I had taught him basic knife skills and was standing right there watching him, but her reaction broke his focus and drained the joy from his accomplishment.
Ah me. To get beyond that kind of buzzkill, Aviva gives seven ways we can get a grip and start kids cooking. These include letting kids make real food, letting the kids use real equipment, and my favorite:
Stop talking. In cooking with kids (and perhaps parenting in general), the most important lesson I’ve learned is that the less we say, the better off we all are. Sure, if they ask us a question we should answer, but it’s important to keep quiet as often as possible when we feel like directing or correcting, and let them figure stuff out for themselves. (The answer to any cooking question or any technique can easily be found on YouTube.) When you do speak up, try to make all your directions and responses encouraging and positive so the kitchen doesn’t become a zone for criticism.
Another suggestion was to LEAVE the kitchen.
With any luck, you’ll be eating kid-cooked Chicken Cordon Bleu (or mac and cheese) by March. – L.