I am not fond of cooking. I cook for sustenance or because I happen to be craving something, rarely ever for enjoyment. I first saw the programme Masterchef Australia Kids before I had even thought of having kids. The show gave me a new perspective on how they could be helpful to have!
Do men belong in the kitchen?
Jokes apart, I was sure I wanted to raise a child who would be self-sufficient and independent. Especially as a mother of a boy in South Asia, I’d did not want him to grow up to be a man-child. I’d seen enough men who couldn’t find their way around a kitchen even to get a glass of water, and the women (mother, wife or sister) who found it funny or exasperating but never did anything to correct that behaviour.
My husband has, over time, become pretty proficient in the kitchen. He took up more kitchen duties after our son was born. Our kid has not known a day when his dad hasn’t been part of the household chores (except when he was travelling on work).
For the love of learning
Kids are naturally curious. They want to do everything they see others around them doing. Since his first birthday, once he could walk independently, we have tried to include our son in our daily chores. Hand him a dusting cloth to clean counters, have him help put away his toys at the end of the day, and whatever little he could do in the kitchen – starting with just stirring in the sugar for coffee. He slowly progressed to chopping some vegetables, making rotis (under supervision), and finding new recipes he wanted to try – all by the time he was five years old.
Boys in the kitchen
His interest in kitchen-related things made him ask for a kitchen set for his birthday. Many people, including my mother, thought it was a gift meant for girls and he should get something else he’d enjoy.
I reminded her how she praised my husband for being so involved and complained about other men (like my father) who hardly ever entered the kitchen. How will they grow up to be capable in the kitchen if you thwart their interest now? Especially with such a flimsy sexist excuse!
My son loves his kitchen – he even helped assemble it. It’s his restaurant, and he serves a variety of delicious meals to his customers. We need to make a prior booking though because it is usually crowded.
Kitchen chores for kids by age
You need to do this when you have enough patience. It takes time to get anything done with kids around, and it gets messy.
Let them watch you as you cook and encourage them to touch and taste as much as possible.
1 to 2 years old
Give them a blunt knife (or a butter knife) to cut soft veggies like boiled carrots, or let them mash boiled potatoes or avocados with a masher. Have them peel oranges and separate mint leaves from the stem, or peel shells off of boiled eggs: This is an excellent way to learn fine motor skills. They could even be trained to toast bread in a toaster or fetch things from the pantry or fridge.
3 to 6 years old
Start slow and guide them to use a proper knife for softer vegetables like tomatoes, okra, and gourds. They can also be given some dough in a smaller bowl to knead, then let them roll out their own rotis. Slowly graduate to letting them cook the rotis. It helps if you have an induction stove, so there’s no risk of fire burns. They can even crack eggs and make an omelette.
Let them be as involved in the kitchen as possible. Involve them in deciding the menus for the day, and discuss how to include essential food groups in each meal.
Once they feel involved and appreciated, they will want to participate more. Not all kids will learn to love cooking, but they will be equipped with an essential life skill.