If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent many hours baking and cooking with your children since they were young. Pre-school, our Wednesday baking day was always a fun, messy (if slightly stressful) morning in our home. But now that my children are all at school, it’s a little trickier to find the time for kitchen fun.
My eldest daughter, now 10, sits on the brink of so much development. I am fascinated how she can swing between happily playing with younger children and acting like a crazy lunatic one minute, to then wanting to spend time and chat with my friends and me about pretty grown-up topics the next. She’s dipping her toe into a much deeper understanding of the world, while still keeping firmly immersed in the creativity and unrestrained joy of childhood.
My tween’s rapid development was brought to the forefront this winter after I underwent emergency surgery. During this difficult time, I learned that she really can step up to challenges. She helped a great deal with the housework, putting on loads of laundry, vacuuming the floor and taking the dog for a walk.
But while these jobs were a fantastic help, I also needed a lot of help preparing snacks and dinners. This reminded me that I’ve always had a very clear dream for my children: I want them to have a whole bunch of kitchen skills up their sleeve and to be a lot more prepared for the realities of adult life than I was.
I vividly remember being unprepared for the task of cooking for myself when I trundled off to university at the age of 18. While I was a fairly proficient baker of sweet treats, I knew very little about preparing healthful meals. Sure I’d been taught the theory of eating my five plus of fruit and vegetables a day, but I didn’t understand much about cooking, budgeting or meal planning, and as a result often resorted to the packet of instant noodles rattling around the kitchen cupboard.
Fortunately, while there are so many things in life we can’t possibly prepare our children for, the skills required to plan, prepare and cook their own healthful meals are not one of them. So I had an idea: I would begin in earnest to impart my kitchen knowledge upon my 10-year-old, so that she can slowly grow her own repertoire of skills and become a competent cook in her own right. Enter “Project Tween Kitchen Upskill.”
Project Tween Kitchen Upskill
One dreary winter Wednesday afternoon, we sat down together and discussed the idea of this project. Luckily my daughter, Ida, was very enthusiastic. So we did some research on the internet to find out what basic skills she already had, and which she would need to practice. She was happy to note she could already fry eggs, scramble eggs, make French Toast, make toast, and wash vegetables. We then made a list of her favourite dinner recipes I regularly cook, and made a plan to master 10 skills in total.
And so the project challenge was set. Ida would learn to make:
- An omelette
- Pizza dough
- A basic white/cheese sauce
- A green salad
- A family taco meal
- Blueberry muffins
- A vegetable pie
- Various sandwiches.
Each Wednesday lunchtime we went through the chosen recipe to see if we had everything we needed. If there was something missing, Ida made a list, got on her scooter and bought the necessities at the Coop. We also agreed that Ida would learn to clean up and do the dishes after she’d cooked – an essential part of kitchen skills.
The Project In Action
While we started off with great enthusiasm, it’s fair to say that Ida’s waxed and waned week by week. Some Wednesdays went well and her enthusiasm remained high. Ida particularly liked it when I took photos of her work and we also discussed making a recipe book of these (see my previous article on how to make your own family recipe book).
Other days she was tired and didn’t want to do a full recipe. These were great days to get her involved in a small piece of the kitchen skills – like cracking eggs or slicing vegetables. Despite my lofty vision of having her cook a family meal each week, I learned to go with the flow of her energy levels and lower my expectations.
During the process we learned that there are a raft of small skills required to get anything achieved in the kitchen, and it’s important to approach them one at a time. For instance, in making a pie, Ida had to:
- Wash and slice vegetables
- Roll out pastry
- Make a sauce
- Boil and steam vegetables
- Strain vegetables
- Learn how to safely take a heavy, hot dish out of a hot oven.
And after all that work there was still the clean-up to do! I soon realised that this is a whole lesson in and of itself and that there is a clear process to this seemingly mindless task we parents do many times a day without really thinking.
- Step 1: Move all dirty dishes to one side of the bench.
- Step 2: Rinse the main dirt off dishes
- Step 3: Make sure the sink is clean, then fill with hot soapy water.
- Step 4: Take out the dish rack.
- Step 5: Wash dishes and leave to drain or dry.
It was rather exhausting teaching her this process, let alone watching her try to do it all. Attempting to do a whole complex recipe as well as the kitchen clean-up was a bit much just yet. In future we’ve decided to tackle one skill at a time.
Reflecting on the project
I will be honest and say that our project is still a work in progress. The wintry weather improved before we’d completed all of the skills, and Ida preferred to spend the time playing outside with her friends. And while I could have pushed the issue, I decided that her free play time was more important right now and that we’ll get back to finishing the skills when the days get darker and colder once more.
However, Ida and I have loved the time we’ve spent together so far on this project, and know its an invaluable task we’ve set ourselves.
If you’re interested in setting your tween a similar challenge, I’d advise you keep goals simple and small and perhaps offer some form of reward either at the end of each task, or at the end of the project. I have a personalised apron, set of children’s chef knives and homemade certificate in mind.
Whatever you’re inspired to do in the kitchen, I hope you have a great messy time and create many happy moments together with your precious tween.
Ida’s Vegetable Pie:
- 2 packets puff pastry (we use gluten-free)
- Various vegetables (we use broccoli, potato, sweet potato, red pepper, carrots)
- 50 grams butter
- 3 Tablespoons Flour
- 2 cups milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Egg for egg wash
Step 1: Cube potatoes and boil until tender.
Step 2: Slice and cube remaining vegetables and steam until tender.
Step 3: Make white sauce by melting butter, adding flour, cooking for a few minutes, then slowly adding milk, stirring constantly. You can add cheese or nutritional yeast at this point if you wish.
Step 4: Roll out pastry and place one packet on the bottom of a pie dish.
Step 5: Mix vegetables and white sauce together in a bowl, then carefully place on top of pastry.
Step 6: Place top layer of pastry, and prick with fork. Wash with egg wash and place in heated oven.
Step 7: Bake at 180C for around 35 minutes.
For best results, leave pie to sit in turned off oven for another 30-60 minutes.
Text and photos by Rachael Soster-Smith
Rachael is an expat from New Zealand and mother of three. She spends any spare time cooking and baking vegan meals and treats and studying to become a qualified yoga teacher.