Our tomatoes are just turning ripe, but yesterday my mother-in-law gave me a five-gallon-bucket worth of hers. Her mixture of traditional tomatoes and heirlooms was perfect for my quick freezing sauce.
Even before I became a mother, I was dreaming of the day when my kids would help me with cooking, cleaning, and food preservation. Although not every child I encountered displayed such functionality, I envisioned my own busily washing and trimming and slicing.
I wasn’t wrong. That giant mountain of tomatoes was washed, cored, and cut in no time with the three of us working.
If you are wondering how I got them to do it, I did it by starting them young. Original, right?
Because children’s first instinct is to imitate the adults around them, I began to include mine into my kitchen work between the ages of two and three – depending on when each respective child reached the “I wanna do it too!” stage. If you were ever around young children, you have no doubt encountered this phenomenon. Basic prep jobs, such as washing the produce, stirring, rolling out dough, and cutting certain soft fruits and veggies, are perfect for that age.
We didn’t start with real sharp knives, though. When my daugther, above, was maybe two-and-a-half, I began to let her cut things alongside me with a fairly safe little knife you can see in the photo above. Over the years, she graduated to using our regular paring knives, passing “Josie’s little red knife” to her little brother last year.
How focused he is!
Because I am a Jewish mother, I walked them both through safety techniques from the start, and can now trust them to be careful (although I am still constantly saying, “Be careful, watch out for your little fingers!”).
Because my daugther is older and has better manual dexterity and knife skills, she volunteered to core – the job she was not that comfortable with only a summer ago.
Which brings me to the following point:
If your particular child doesn’t feel comfortable cutting in general or cutting something in particular, don’t push it until he or she does.
It’s just one of those things. As I tell my children, “if you don’t feel safe doing something, don’t do it.”
Anyhow, my son then cut the cored tomatoes in half (I don’t peel or seed my tomatoes for sauce, blending everything with an immersion blender instead). See how conscious he is about keeping his fingers safely away from the blade? I credit my inner Jewish mother.
This, by the way, is the product I wanted – and they delivered.
My girl also did all the washing. She didn’t especially want to, but I reminded her that it was important for us to do it in order to continue having her favorite noodles and red sauce on Mondays. It is the truth.
Overall, I feel comfortable giving my children work. In addition to teaching them to stick to a task, these types of skills are also helpful in building the self-confidence they’ll need in their adult life. In a nutshell, here’s how I see it:
Today I trust them with a knife = tomorrow they will trust themselves to face a challenge and succeed.
At least that’s what I think.