The chef right under your nose

By Edie Shaw-Ewald

Do you sometimes wish you had help in the kitchen? Maybe a sous-chef to peel and chop veggies, sauté the onion and garlic? You may just have a sous-chef right under your nose. Never underestimate the help your children can offer in the kitchen. 

Maybe you let your children help when it is a special time such as making cookies for the holidays or a cake for a birthday. But getting them to help with the everyday cooking will benefit them (and you, too).

Sure, the kitchen may end up a little messier, but the pros far outweigh the con of flour on the floor. 

Cooking with your children is a time to teach them a valuable and essential life skill. To learn how to prepare dinner without directions on a boxed processed meal will give your child the skill of knowing how to cook from raw, whole ingredients. This is a gift of health to them, which they can pass on to their children.

Cooking can teach other lessons too, including tradition, culture, math, reading, geography, biology, teamwork, organizational skills, and motor skills. 

Working together in the kitchen preparing a meal is an opportune time to connect and communicate. Working side by side can communicate much without words: respect, love, closeness, and the bonds of family.

Children that help prepare meals will take some pride and ownership of the meal. This can also lead to a more mature palate and an interest in a wider variety of foods.

Give them age and skill appropriate tasks: read through the recipe before you start in order to determine what your little chef can do successfully. The tasks will depend on their age, motor skills, and maturity. 

For three and four year olds, it may be to wash and dry lettuce leaves and tear them up for a salad. Using a plastic knife or metal butter knife, they can slice strawberries, bananas, and other soft foods.

Most five to seven year olds can start measuring ingredients, peel vegetables, form meatballs or patties, grease pans, and stir ingredients in a bowl.

After assessing your child’s abilities with a knife and stove, you can get them to start chopping and dicing veggies and sauté and stir-fry at the stove.

Assign a small chore they can be responsible for nightly. Setting the table is a good nightly task for most children.

Make sure to talk about hand washing, kitchen safety, and food safety to avoid injury and food-borne illness.

When your kids are old enough to manage preparing a simple meal, assign them a night of the week to take over the kitchen. Let them choose the meal, preferably a meal they have assisted with in the past. 

It may produce a little more mess in the kitchen but cleaning up after the meal is another life skill to learn.   


Vegetable bean soup

Every child needs to learn how to make soup from scratch. Here is one that is customizable and has tasks for everyone.
Recipe and photo by Edie Shaw-Ewald, RD

• 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1 onion, diced
• 8 garlic cloves, minced
• 4 large carrots, diced
• 4 cups chicken broth
• 3 cups boiling water
• 1 can canellini beans, rinsed (or another bean)
• 1 cup Moroccan couscous (or another pasta such as macaroni)
• 1 cup frozen peas
• 1 cup chopped kale or spinach
• If you have some turnip or potato on hand,  throw them in the pot!

1. Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat.
2. Add the diced onion and garlic. Saute until the onion is translucent.
3. Add the diced carrots. Sauté for a few minutes.
4. Add the broth and boiling water.
5. Add the rinsed beans and the couscous. Let the soup simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Add the peas and chopped kale just a few minutes before serving.
7. Season with ground pepper and salt.

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