Saturday, June 13, 2015

What Can A 4-Year-Old Do in the Kitchen?

Jack is four and guess what he has mastered? Planning and preparing a full meal with but a little help from Mama sous chef.

Jack asked me to peel and cut fruit alongside him and to help him get the roll ups out of the toaster oven where they were warming,  Besides that, he planned and prepared this meal for our family with focused and satisfied independence.

Now, before anyone cries, "Danger!", let me explain:  We are not negligent parents.  Rather, we are parents with a mission to guide our children to be happy, healthy, competent adults.  Part of this means giving them freedom and responsibility in the kitchen.

He only began cooking eggs after putting the roll ups in to warm and prepping the fruit for our meal because I reminded him  that the eggs would not take long, but would need full attention.

Inspired by Montessori principles, Mike and I have long involved our children in food preparation -- yes, even wielding knives and cooking over fire.  For while some think that doing so is just too unsafe, we disagree.  

Dangerous to us is cowering in the kitchen, thinking that young children are incapable of learning how to plan and prepare healthy meals even after they have shown an interest in doing so.  

Earlier in the week, Jack has decided he wanted to prepare eggs for protein, sliced apples for produce and rolls ups for carbs.  However, when the day came for him to make our family meal, he swapped out apples for strawberries, peaches and nectarines.  A tasty choice!

For time eternal, children have had kitchen responsibilities.  In "the old days" these responsibilities included working with tools far more ominous than any of our kitchen knives are and cooking over a much more open flame than our little gas stove can produce.

Because the task is challenging for him and he was eager to cook eggs, Jack asked me to peel and slice some of the fruit alongside him.

So it is that Mike and I choose to take extra time when we can to work alongside our children in our kitchen.  At first, this means, agreeing that our children can be our sous chefs, which, of course, does find us sacrificing some speed in food in order to mentor the the children in meal prep.  For, in the short-term, planning and prepping meals child-free can be far more expedient.  No eggs accidentally broken on the floor.  No pan to scrub after food was cooked a bit too long.  No constant pausing to answer this question or direct that next action.

I have cleaned up a fair share of broken eggs and fished out many an egg shell bit over the years, but it is so worth it to witness this concentration and ability now!

Over time, though, choosing to have our children as sous chefs becomes the more efficient choice.  For it leads to the tables turning:  the moment when we become the kids' helpers.  When we can simply smile and attend to another thing here and there as the children do the majority of the meal prep, asking us only for a bit of help.

Then, one day, one meal at a time, the children become the solo chefs -- ready, willing and able to plan and prep a meal from start to finish.  Jack is not 100% there yet with egg roll ups and fruit, but he is oh so close and it makes us both smile.

There is a simple joy that comes when a four year old sees "egg soup" turn to scrambled eggs, doing it "all by myself!"

As each of our children gain independence in the kitchen, we savor the fruits of all our labor:  the meals the children make and the efforts we put in to set them free in the kitchen.

What other "dangerous" practical life skills might children be capable of?


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