Cooking is a Family Affair

August 6, 2012

in Family & Friends, Kids, Our Farm, Parenting

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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.

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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.

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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!”).

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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.”

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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.

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This, by the way, is the product I wanted – and they delivered.

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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.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jessica@The Literary Foodie August 7, 2012 at 1:26 am

Just discovered your blog today and am really enjoying it! First I will say that I don’t have kids and my first reaction to seeing those pudgy little fingers holding knives was to cringe. My second was that if I had kids I would hope to do the same. Great pictures, and I have the feeling that you are right about you trusting them with knives leading to being able to face challenges. I look forward to reading much more.
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2 Sofya August 7, 2012 at 7:47 am

They are actually very careful. They don’t cut themselves at all.

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3 Becca @ Sweet Swan Songs August 7, 2012 at 8:35 am

That’s so great! I think it’s really important to let our kids help out in the kitchen- how else are they going to learn essential life skills?
I have a 5 year old and 2 year old and they love to help bake bread, cook eggs and stir things in the pot on the stove (carefully supervised, of course.)
I’ve only just started letting the 5 year old use sharp knives to cut things, and like you said, he is ever so careful to not get his fingers in the way.
My mom always had us shelling peas or husking corn or helping cut up fruit and veggies in the kitchen and I remember liking to help.
If I complained, she just said, “let’s just do it all together! Many hands make light work”
SO true.
Beautiful pictures of your children and those tomatoes. :)
Our tomatoes are just starting to ripen, and we’re sure enjoying them!

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4 Sofya August 7, 2012 at 8:45 am

Oh funny, I actually just began to let my six-year-old to start on “hot things,” like boiling eggs.

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5 Jess August 7, 2012 at 11:25 am

You know, ever since my stepmother moved in when I was 8, I had loads of chores to do around the house. She was from the Philippines and children are taught to help out from very young ages. By the time I was 10 my stepbrother and I were expected to run the washer/dryer, fold everyone’s clothes, wash the dishes, clean the bathrooms, vacuum the carpets, help with the cooking, etc. And this happened daily, not just on the weekends. My friends thought my parents were being so strict, but I didn’t really know anything different, so I never complained.

And then I went to college…..and I couldn’t believe how many of my dorm-mates couldn’t even make a simple dinner by boiling some water, dumping some pasta in, draining and stirring in sauce. Oh, and the boys making mistakes in the laundry room always made for a good laugh!

I now have my own child and want her to be raised much the same as my brother and myself were. She’s even ‘helped’ knead some bread and she’s only 9 months old! I thank my parents every chance I get for preparing me for life on my own.

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6 Sofya August 7, 2012 at 11:36 am

This is just so wonderful.

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7 Kat August 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm

You pretty much covered it. Since hubs insists on crazy sharp knives in the kitchen, I went ahead and bought our daughter her own set of kid’s kitchen knives back when she was about 2 – they are heavy-duty plastic with a serrated edge & perfect for softer fruits & veggies. 3 years later, that kid can chop with the best of ‘em! She clears the dirty dishes after meals, loads the dishwasher, helps fold & put away laundry, cares for her fish, helps cook, bake, & can, takes care of her own shower time, and helps us with whatever project we’re doing. She’s an independent girl who I know will be able to take care of herself very well as an adult – only way to learn is by doing.

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8 Sofya August 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Oh I love hearing about your daughter.

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9 Joan D'Arienzo August 18, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I happened upon your site/blog while googling how to use grape leaves for dill pickle crispiness. I make dills exactly like you do but have always wanted to try grape leaves and I will this weekend. Thank you so much for the information.

Your children look absolutely priceless, you must be very proud of them. They make me want to come live on your farm with you. However, I am Canadian. All four of my grandparents were from the Ukraine and immigrated to Canada following World War I. One of my grandmothers had beautiful well water and she was able to make cold pack dills without vinegar. I can’t make them with our city water even if it is filtered. They were a natural cure for stomach ailments like the stomach flu but were loved by our family at any time. As children we always hoped when we visited Baba’s farm that she would go into her preserves cellar under the kitchen floor and give us a jar of “Baba’s Pickles”.

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