It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day today. We all slept late, even the dogs and cat. If the dogs are lucky, they get to take advantage of our laziness and they jump on our bed for a brief snuggle before we get up for the morning feeding ritual. They each have their own beds that they snooze in overnight, but they do look forward to curling up with Mom and Dad for a little snoozy cuddle.
There wasn’t too much on the agenda for today, other than a massage for me and groceries for my husband. On the kitchen counter were a bunch of bananas that were getting super over-ripe, and I made a loose plan to engage my younger daughter who’s 16 to make some banana oat bread. I found this recipe online and tried it a few times with her, and I like it a lot. What I like more is the engagement with my daughter in an activity that makes something delicious.
Cooking with your kids can be a dicey proposition. If you (or your kids) are a perfectionist or OCD in any way, it can really make for a stressful environment. Expectations are high, one wrong move can “ruin everything.” The thing is, cooking with your children should be a relaxed opportunity to follow directions, make adaptations, tweak a recipe to make it your own, and make the house smell delicious. It can be messy: eggs spilling, flour everywhere, especially if your kids are younger or if your older kids don’t have much experience. So many times, she thinks she’s making a “mistake” and I have to tell her “no big deal/it’s all good/you’re doing fine/here’s how you deal with it.” If you can tolerate their learning process, and they can tolerate your teaching process, you can provide some practical lessons in making things that don’t go from the freezer straight to the microwave.
Technically, a 16-year old is more than capable to bake banana bread themselves. It’s almost impossible to screw up: wet ingredients in one bowl, dry ingredients in another bowl, mix separately, then mix together, put in pan and bake. However, motivation and confidence are key factors in their ability to be independent chefs. Mine sometimes struggles with both, and needs some extra encouragement and experience to remember that she can eventually do it on her own. So, whenever I have some over-ripe bananas getting spotty on the counter, I know it’s a good time to get out the bowls and get in a practice session.
We usually take out the ingredients together; somehow, she always forgets where things are, as though I have rearranged the pantry and cabinets each time we bake. So, I make sure she puts everything away after we finish using each ingredient, in hopes that it will spark a memory next time. I have her do all the measuring, pouring and egg cracking, so she has the hands-on experience. She’s gotten pretty good at cracking eggs, too. She does the mixing (not too much, just enough to incorporate the dry into the wet) and pouring into the pan. She knows to scrape every last bit that she can from the bowl and the spatula. Waste not, want not, for sure. She also puts the pan in the oven, so she understands how to do so without accidentally touching the hot oven rack and burning herself. Call me the project manager; basically, I set things up, and she takes it from there.
I’ve had to remind myself not to take practice for granted. We can’t expect our kids to just know how to do the stuff we do every day. Adults have had ample opportunity to screw things up and figure out how to make it work anyway. They need to participate in food-making rituals, over and over again, to develop this skill. I write this, not only to share the sentiment with others, but to remind myself not to get too busy or pre-occupied with just doing things myself. I must continue to engage my big kid in the practical stuff because in a few years, she’ll be doing this on her own.
Is it harder to have them cook with you? At first, yes. You spend more time teaching and fixing than it would take to just make the darn thing yourself. Are they always on board with helping? Often, no. She’s not always up for the task. Whatever things that are distracting her (videos, sleep, etc) can put the kibosh on my plans to spend some cooking time together. But when she agrees and is in the mood, we have a nice time together in the kitchen. She even gets a little excited about each small task leading up to putting the pan in the oven. And every time we cook together, she gets a little more confident that she can do things on her own. Best of all, we have a delicious (and mostly nutritious) treat to enjoy throughout the week.
Tonight, I’m planning to make enchiladas. I hope to engage her in a little tortilla-wrapping session. Everyone should know how to make enchiladas with homemade salsa verde.