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Bradley and I met through a mutual love of food and it remains a passion that we share. So it is not surprise that we have shared cooking and this love of food with our kids. From a very young age we’ve cooked with them, pulling their highchairs into the kitchen or when they were older, letting them sit on the bench top. Not involving them in the kitchen was never an option we considered.
Still, cooking with small children can be trying. It is a good deal messier and the pace can be maddeningly slow. Then there are the hazards: sharp knives, hot pans, high bench tops to fall off. Really, there are plenty of practical reasons not to cook with small children. I won’t lie, sometimes it is stressful and we have our share of whining, messes and raised voices in the kitchen. So why do I persist?
I could say that there are also a few practical reasons that speak for involving them in the kitchen. Truth be told, I’d much rather cook, even at a messy and slow pace than play imaginary games. There is another practical reason people often bring up which is that by teaching our kids to cook now, they’ll be able to contribute to cooking meals sooner. Sounds like a handy side effect, but it doesn’t motivate me.
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I think my real reasons for cooking with my kids are mostly abstract. I do it because cooking and enjoying food together is an important part of our family culture. I cook with them because I want them to have an imitate relationship with food. I want them to know where their food comes from, how to prepare it and to enjoy it; something I hope will bring them and those they love pleasure for a lifetime.
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I love the fact that at three, Vivien quakes with joy at the thought of kippered fish and eggs for breakfast. I’m equally pleased when Morgan says, “Mum, could you make that cauliflower and chickpea stew every night? It is soooo good!” I love the fact that they crave and get excited about real, decent food. This is the kind of food I want them to be nostalgic about as adults. These are the things I want them to crave and cook for themselves when they need comforting – without a recipe.
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When it comes down to it, I want them to be able to cook like my friend Funda. To be a guest at her table is experience hospitality as you might if you were part of a large close-knit family. She grew up cooking beautiful Turkish food at her mother’s side. She is the kind of person who finds it hard to give me a recipe when I ask. It’s not because she is stingy with them, on the contrary. The problem, I suspect, is that she doesn’t know how to put it into words. I imagine it might feel as baffling as being asked for instructions on how to walk. Once, when I was having trouble making yogurt, I asked her for some instruction. It started off like this, “Heat up the milk until it is hot enough when you put your finger in it, but not too hot…”. She went on, but I tuned out because there is no muscle memory in my fingers for the correct temperature of milk to make yogurt and so the information was useless to me.
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I want my kids to have that muscle memory. I would like cooking to be something they do intuitively, naturally with none of the stress it can bring for those foreign to the kitchen and faced with the task of nourishing themselves and their family. I want them to be able to cook with ease for themselves, their friends and family because I think sharing food with those you love can bring a great sense of joy. And of course, I want that for them. Lots of it.
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