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Is the Mess Worth It?

They say the kitchen is the heart of the home. As a parent, I imagine you spend a lot of time there just like I do. If it’s not cooking, then it’s cleaning. If not cleaning, then maybe it’s a family activity or game at the table. It’s the one room where the whole family comes together. You have fun there. You gain nourishment there. You laugh there. You cry there. You learn life lessons there.

To take it one step further for me, I’m a professionally trained chef and have worked in, managed and owned restaurants. Kitchen’s are almost a therapeutic comfort zone for me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who retreats to the kitchen to bake cookies when the stress of the day has hit a boiling point (another kitchen reference). Or who takes out their anger or frustration on the poor stainless-steel stove by scrubbing the hell out of

It’s been fascinating to watch how curious my kids are about the kitchen. It’s almost as if they sense everything I’ve just mentioned. It’s like they too are being drawn into this communal room. So, I’m trying to capitalize on this.

There is tremendous value in learning to cook. Of course, I would say that… I’m a chef. But think about this – and this is something I always told my staff and new hires: A chef will be the last person to die at the end of the world. All other professions will fade away first. Even doctors, who will probably be second last to fade away… need to eat!

But it’s more than just eating and nourishment. I learnt most of my life lessons in the kitchen, and I’m determined to teach my kids the same lessons. Some skills include:

Basic Math Skills – and not so basic. Adding, Subtracting, Multiplying, Dividing, Fractions, Conversions, to name a few. And put away the smart phone. Oh, how easy my childhood would have been had I had an iPhone 1. NO! There are some things in life that need to be memorized.

Nutrition – being in the kitchen seeing how food is prepared is where you really start to appreciate and understand the difference between spinach salad and a french fries. Show them Canada’s Food Guide and explain to them what a well-balanced diet looks like.

Sensory Awareness – Cooking and baking can expose your child to new textures, tastes, colors, odors/aromas, and more. I beg of you, just step back and shut up. Allow them to explore on their own. Don’t influence their opinions. You’ve done enough by having them cook with you and by exposing them to a new recipe or ingredients… now allow them to see, touch, smell, listen and taste the food on their own. Eventually you can even make this into a fun game and quiz each other on what the food is by only allowing them to identify it by one sense. Eg: the SMELL of bacon, the SOUND of a carrot (snapping in half), the FEEL of a peach, the TASTE of a soup, the SIGHT of a piece of chicken (which part is it?)

Following Directions – Recipes need to be put together in a specific order. This can help show your children the importance of following directions. But to properly teach this, you need to let your kids fail once in awhile. Now, don’t set them up to fail but at the same time, they need to learn consequences. The first thing that comes to mind is allowing a batch of cookies to burn if they have forgotten to set a timer.

Language Skills – Reading food labels and recipes can help your children improve their reading skills and learn the meanings of unfamiliar words. If your kids are anything like mine, they will be so inquisitive (almost to the point of annoyance) as to what it is that they are using and cooking with. They WANT to say Worcestershire Sauce (which can be fun all by itself) – and we all know that when kids want to do something, parenting and teaching becomes so much easier.

Accomplishment – seeing a task through to completion is such a valuable skill that needs to be taught early on. There is nothing more rewarding in the kitchen than having spent an hour or two preparing a dish and finally getting to eat it. I’ve personally seen my kids eat food that they had previously refused multiple times when offered to them, but because this time THEY made it – they wanted to eat it.

Respect – Without going all Gordon Ramsay on you, you need to teach your kids that food does NOT come from the grocery store. As soon as I can, I want to show my kids that carrots come from the earth, that berries come from bushes, cherries from trees, fish from lakes, milk from cows, etc. Once they know this, then we need to teach them to respect the food and use it properly. In some restaurants, burning a batch of wild mushroom soup will get you fired. (don’t even get me started on cooks who have no respect for morels or truffles)

Gratitude – In my opinion, the worst part about the preparation of food is that it takes ten times longer to prepare than it does to consume. Just look at Thanksgiving Day if you need proof. What time does Grandma begin preparing? Often, it’s the NIGHT BEFORE!!! And then we all show up, stuff our faces for twenty minutes and run off to see if our team has scored a touchdown. We need to teach our kids to be grateful. Grateful that we have food. Grateful for people around us who know how AND TAKE THE TIME to prepare that food.

So, do you still think inviting your kids into the kitchen to cook with you is just creating more mess than it’s worth?


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