"Do you have kids cooking classes?"

"My 5-year-old has a highly developed palate and is an aspiring chef."

"I have a budding chef at home.  He watches all of the cooking shows on TV."

Just a few of the emailed comments I have received over the years asking me to teach their children to cook.  Frankly, we tried kids cooking classes at the kitchen and, for a variety of reasons, they were never as successful as I expected or wanted them to be.

It started to grate on me when I would get the questions about kids classes or the pleas based on the undiscovered talent of their child-chef.  As a psychologist (a child psychologist for many years, I might add), I examine my inner workings when I have a particularly extreme reaction to reasonable questions or comments.  Because of course, almost every child is gifted and talented to his/her parents.  I hear you, I really do.

But recently, I had an epiphany and it then made perfect sense to me.  I now know why it makes me crazy to get that question.  Before I share my enlightenment with you, let me give you a glimpse of a bit of the journey to finding my answer.

I have been working on a couple of different ideas for food/cooking shows.  The one thing that truly differentiates me from my cooking counterparts is my advanced degree (for better or worse).  I have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and no matter what situation I find myself in, my background is always there.  I frame everything I see, read, hear, cook, experience as a psychologist.  I can't help it.  It just happens.  It's one of those things I can't turn off.  Hence, the communal table in our kitchen so people can eat together at the end of cooking together.  I often say, "strangers become friends" at that table.  Psychology.  Cooking together is a bonding experience and no, I'm not being sappy (because you know that's not who I am).  The life experience of cooking with another person to produce something delicious to eat is not comparable to other group experiences.  Food and eating involve a basic instinct and we cannot rid ourselves of our caveman ways.  It's just there.  Psychology. 

So back to my show ideas, one revolves around cooking one-on-one with someone who brings specific food/dish memories to the kitchen, good or bad, and then re-doing or re-creating that dish and the memories surrounding it.  The other one has to do with the importance of family dinnertime which is also the idea of a producer friend of mine so I am not at liberty to share its details so use your imagination.

OK.  So through these mental gymnastics, it became very clear to me that this is what is important: children cooking with their parents.  I feel very strongly that parents and kids cooking together is an activity that can be, for lack of a better term, life-changing.  There are so many things that can happen when you cook with your child.  Working together as a unit to solve a problem is powerful...don't underestimate it.  That is good for you and good for your child; it is a two-way street and that is a way to build life-long communication.  It's a metaphor.  It sets the stage for years when communicating can be a problem.  It's a relationship to build within a family not with the chef down the street.

From the website, healthychildren.org created by the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are several great reasons for cooking with your kids. Making "children feel more included in mealtime...and be "in charge" of details like how to set the table will help them feel invested in mealtime." It can help them to be adventurous in trying different foods, to be safe in the kitchen, to be smarter by measuring and reading recipes and the end result is building "plenty of happy memories in the kitchen".  I also subscribe to an email newsletter from thefamilydinnerproject.org that provides daily dinner recipe suggestions along with ways to make your family cooking and dinnertime more fun and all-inclusive.  Check it out for ideas.

The bottom line is:  YOU, not me, or any other chef, need to be cooking with your kids.  You're probably saying to yourself, "I'm not a good cook" or "I don't even like to cook" or "I don't know where to begin" or "My child won't listen to me."  All the more reason to get yourself into the kitchen and cook with your kids whether they have no interest in cooking or are budding, gifted and talented baby chefs.  If you ever watch Masterchef Junior or Chopped Junior, notice that those kids are cooking at home not with some random chef.  Learn TOGETHER! Spend time TOGETHER!

There are a number of great cookbooks that will guide you through the whole process.  Click on any of these titles to find a place to start:

A First Cookbook for Children

The Children's Step-By-Step Cookbook

And, then, this resource has a list of cookbooks for kids: The Best Cookbooks for Kids.

Kids don't need experts to teach them how to cook.  They need mom AND dad in the kitchen with them going through the process and showing them how valuable they are and how valuable and important cooking together is.  Learning from a stranger is not where it's at.  Learning from your folks?  That's where the magic happens. 

And, you know what?  I learned how to cook from my mom.

As always...

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