Cooking with Kids | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Cooking with Kids

Cooking with Kids

Courtesy Ronnie Fein

Trust Your Kids and Grandkids With Age-Appropriate Tasks

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I grew up in a household with a mom who loved to cook and bake. Fortunately, she never chased us out of the kitchen, which was always more or less an utter balagan, but rather had us help her. Including me, the youngest, and at such a tender age I can’t even remember when it started.

That alone taught me a lot: that even the youngest of children are able. What they are capable of depends on their age, their willingness to listen, and their parents’ acceptance of imperfection.

I learned not only how to cook and to feel confident in a kitchen, but also that there was a whole lot of stuff to consider beyond the food itself. Like how to hold a knife. That I must wash my hands before I touch anything. That the oven must be preheated. That a teaspoon in a recipe isn’t the same as the utensil from our silverware, but an actual, separate measuring device. That cleaning up after was part of the task of cooking.

I passed these life lessons on when I cooked with my own young children. I told them why I cracked eggs separately into a bowl before adding them to a recipe. I showed them how to spoon ingredients into a measuring cup and level them off with the flat of a knife. I let them know that it’s okay to substitute an ingredient here and there in more recipes than you might think.

Cooking with kids is the apotheosis of quality time: the emotional quality of sharing an experience together and the educational quality of learning about topics as diverse and challenging as measuring, sequencing, reading and understanding instructions, following directions, paying attention to hygiene, trying the foods of other cultures. It is an opportunity to discuss life values such as making healthy choices about food, what it means to be kosher or vegetarian or vegan, to be aware of food allergies, to consider sustainability and food waste.

These are among the topics I now talk about with my five grandchildren, all of whom cook with me, even the youngest. I hope – I actually believe – that one day, when I am gone, they will remember the cooking, the values shared, the lessons learned, the fabulous food, the fun we had in my kitchen. And I am sure that they will be knowledgeable and confident and that they will continue the lessons with the next generations.

Most of the time I cook with one or two of the children, but recently, after Thanksgiving, when we had some turkey left over, it seemed a perfect opportunity to use the scraps for some fried rice, and all four of the youngest ones got involved. This was the first time our 6-year-old grandson was allowed to cut (the scallions). Yes, he’s old enough, given instruction and adult supervision, to wield a chef’s knife.

The youngest, age 4, not only beat the eggs together, but stood on a stool to be tall enough to add the peas to the wok – as her older sister, a bit skeptical – watched. Our 9 and 10 year olds did some chopping (more scallions, the turkey, the cooked egg) and mixing but the most fun for them was the actual cooking. They scrambled the eggs and stirred the cold rice around the pan to make sure that all the ingredients were evenly distributed.

We talked about why we used a wok, rather than a flat skillet. Why cold rice, rather than hot. Why we added peas and what else we could have used if I didn’t have a package in my freezer.

When the dish was done, all the children participated in the less than glamorous to-dos. They all threw useless scraps into the garbage. They placed the dishes and utensils in the sink. They wiped the counter with paper towels (I did the real cleanse afterwards).

Then they ate. Delicious Turkey Fried Rice. Not a morsel was left over.

They were pleased and proud. And so was I.

If you can, put this activity on your bucket list.

So Easy a Child Can Make It Fried Rice with Turkey and Egg

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