Kids In The Kitchen

by Valerie


I’m a Southern girl, born and raised. Never lived anywhere else, never want to. I like the way things are  down south of the Mason-Dixon line. I like my tea sweet, my grits with a little cheese, and my boys with a little dirt under their fingernails. I like the way I was raised, and I’m trying to raise my kids the same way, with the same good old Southern values. Respect your elders. Take responsibility. Take care of yourself and your family. Learn to do what it takes to take care of your family.


In my family, that means everyone learns to do everything. Sure, Momma cooks and my step-dad takes care of the chickens . . .most of the time. She tends to the garden and he maintains the cars . . . most of the time. We pretty much stick to the age-old, traditional roles of Momma raises the kids and Daddy works to support the family, and let me assure you that the choices we make about how our families are run are just that: our choices.


However, we all can cook. We all can split wood, build a fire, and shoot a gun. We all can do a little bit of mechanical work (some more than others; I certainly fall into the lesser portion of this category, much to my step-dad’s utter dismay). We all have the knowledge to do laundry. Oh, and did I mention that there are 3 girls and 1 boy in my family, plus two son-in-laws? My brother can cook, my sisters and I can handle a weapon.


In my own little family, I have two kids. My son, M, just turned 6, and my daughter, A, is 3. My husband and I are working to teach them both that having a variety of skills is very important. Both kids work on the car with Daddy. Both kids help me do laundry and housework. Both kids help Daddy with firewood and outdoor chores. Both kids help me in the kitchen. Let me clarify that Daddy can cook and I can fire up the lawnmower, but we choose, for the most part, for me to be in charge of “girl things” and him to be over “boy things”.


We think it is vital that our kids know how to do whatever is necessary to be self-sufficient and to be able to take care of themselves. My husband’s work schedule means that if I want a fire in the fireplace during the day, it’s up to me and A get it together. If something happens to the car while he’s at work, us girls have to take care of it—or call for backup from Pappy, which I’m not ashamed to do! My sweet man understands that I need time away from my job as wife, mom, and my part-time money-making pursuit, so when I’m out, he has to cook if they want to eat. And he can. And he does.


And so do my kids. They cook because they’ve always been in the kitchen with me. Always. From the time M was born, he was in the kitchen in his bouncy seat while I cooked. When he could toddle, he helped put dishes up. When he got a little bigger, he helped stir and plop out cookie dough. Same with A. Now, I’m proud to say that M can make his own cereal, his own PB&J, and his own Easy Mac. He taught himself about Easy Mac. Last spring, before he could read, he decided he was hungry. So, he grabbed a container, looked at the pictures, put water up to the fill line, and put it in the microwave. The hum of the machine was what drew our attention to the kitchen. When we asked what he was doing, he informed us we were taking too long, and he was hungry. I asked him how he knew what to do, and he said with total confidence “I put water to the line, and I turned the microwave to 3-3-0 like the picture said.”


His hours in the kitchen up to that point had made him self-sufficient. Or as self sufficient as a then-5 year old can be. He’s not afraid to “cook”, and he’s willing to do more than grab a box of crackers when he’s hungry. The kitchen is not a foreign place to him.


Nor is it to my daughter. She’s been in the kitchen since she was born too. She loves to cook with Grammy. In fact, she’ll head to the chicken coop with Pappy, grab an egg or two, and find her little cast iron skillet. She’ll help Grammy fry the eggs up, and she’ll eat them like they’re a gourmet feast. And Grammy better not break out the big wooden mixing bowl. Before she can get the flour out, A’s dragging a chair to the counter and getting ready to make biscuits. She always makes biscuits with Grammy. Always. She knows how to pat them out into cut little circles and how to place them on the pan just so.


This past weekend, we were all craving something different for dessert. After all, one can only take so much half price Halloween candy. So, I decided to make brownies. Hubby used his sad, pathetic face to convince me to bake bread while I was in the kitchen. A asked if she could help, and M said he wanted to help Daddy clean up the house. So A and I got to work.


She helped dump the brownie batter into the bowl (hey, I can cook from scratch, but sometimes you take the shortcuts!), she counted the eggs, she held the measuring cups. She stirred, she poured, and she licked the spoon. Then, we moved on to bread, to take advantage of the heat from the oven to help my dough rise.


Again, she measured, she scooped, and she counted. We talked about yeast making the dough get big, and how the yeast ate the sugar to grow. Then she got to put flour on the counter. Imagine that, getting to make a mess! I taught her how to knead dough. I used simple terms: fold it up and push it down. She chanted that over and over while we worked the dough. Then she greased my bowl, and the dough was ready to rise. And she was done.


Her attention span was gone, she was covered in flour from head to toe, arm pit to arm pit, and ear to ear. I think she even had some up her nose. I was also covered in flour, and there was more flour on the floor than in my pantry. But she was happy. She cooked with Mommy. She learned something.


Kids spending time in the kitchen is an important part of life, because they need to be familiar with the basics of preparing food. But it’s also important for their survival. Recently in the news, I saw a story of a 3 year old who survived for several days after her mother died in the home by raiding the fridge. Now, I don’t like to think about that, but I do feel better that if something was to happen, at least my kids could feed themselves and keep themselves from getting dehydrated.


As far as a prepping survival skill, kids need to know how to cook. How to get around the kitchen. How to meet their most basic needs. Now, I realize there will probably not be Easy Mac after a few weeks if things get bad, or even a microwave for cooking it, though it is possible to cook things like Easy Mac and Cup O Noodles without a microwave. But, my kids know more about cooking than many kids their ages. For some reason, sheltering kids from learning to cook (and really, to take care of themselves) seems to be a mainstream way of life. I mean, I know teenagers who can’t do much more cooking than my 6 year old. They’ve never been in the kitchen to do more than eat. And that’s sad.


So, get your kids in the kitchen. With the holidays rapidly approaching, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get your kids familiar with measuring cups and mixing bowls. Let them taste the difference between sugar and flour. My kids are looking forward to making their contribution to Thanksgiving Dinner: turkeys made from cookies, Rice Krispie treats, and candy corn. My son is awaiting the day I tell him it’s time to make Christmas cookies. My daughter will probably count more eggs and lick more bowls than I will this year. And that’s the way I like it.

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