I have gone through the following steps with children as young as five and, with a little flexibility and patience, it can be a lot of fun.
Note: when it stops being fun, stop. You’re not teaching at the Le Cordon Bleu, so tell your inner Iron Chef to lighten up! Forcing a kid to cook will only get you the opposite of what you’re shooting for…a lifetime peanut-butter and ramen eater.
Also, don’t let your own bias become theirs! If they pick a recipe that calls for tripe, heart, or pig’s feet…go buy the dang pig’s feet! The whole idea here is to broaden their horizons (and it might not hurt to stretch ours a wee bit, as well, lol...)
So, place your tongue firmly in your cheek, accept that the kitchen is going to be a mess*, and have some fun!
Here we go…
1. Take a looking in the fridge/freezer and decide on a protein (chicken, steak, ground beef, salmon, pork roast, etc.) Okay, it doesn’t HAVE to be meat, but I’ve found that those recipes are easier to find in the following steps. You can certainly begin with a vegan main ingredient, as well.
2. Let kiddo pick a country. I have a big mp of the world in my office, but a globe, atlas, or even an online map would work just as well. If the country they pick seems obscure, say “Chad”, just use the continent (Africa) for step three.
Plus, you’ll be helping us teach nutrition, shopping, and hands-on cooking classes to at-risk kids, in our MY KITCHEN Outreach Program.
3. Go to Google and type in “(name of country) (protein) Recipes” ie: “African Chicken Recipes” (490,000 results.) If you have additional ingredients you want to use, like rice, or tomatoes…add them in the search.
4. Together, cull through the recipes that Google finds, until you find one that sounds good, and that you have all (or most) of the ingredients for.
5. Do a new Google search for the name of the recipe you’ve chosen, say “Jollof Rice.” Chances are good that you’re going to get a Wikipedia hit like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jollof_rice. Help junior jot down some notes. Here’s what I found on Jollof Rice:
Jollof rice, also called ‘Benachin’ meaning one pot in the Wolof language, is a popular dish all over West Africa. It is thought to have originated in The Gambia but has since spread to the whole of West Africa, especially Nigeria and Ghana amongst members of the Wolof ethnic group. There are many variations of Jollof rice. The dish consists of rice, tomatoes and tomato paste, onion, salt, spices (such as nutmeg, ginger, Guinea pepper or cumin) and chili pepper, to which optional ingredients can be added such as vegetables, meats and fish.
While the dish is cooking, or before you start, let the kiddo draw up a picture or two of the dish, the country it came from, a collage of the ingredients, whatever.
7. When Dad (or Mom, or the Grandparents, whoever) get’s home. Let kiddo give a short presentation of what we’re having for dinner, let them share some key points of your research, pass around their artwork, etc.
Then, help them serve the dish to the dinner guests.
8. Remember the three most important ingredients in kid cooking…praise, praise, praise!
9. If you’re the artsy/craftsy type, take some pictures of the process, start to finish, and start a family scrap/cookbook with the pictures, recipe, research notes, artwork, and “customer comments.” Not only will this make an awesome keepsake, but it gives junior a chance to remake favorite dishes, take pride in their cooking, and revisit past “glories.”
Most of all HAVE FUN!
Note: I have a daughter, but if I had a son, I would be following the same culinary plan. Let’s put it this way…when I was 27, my sole redeeming feature was my ability to cook really good food…and I married WAY out of my league. If noting else, parents, think of it as your son’s “Failure to Launch” insurance, down the road!
*Just a note on that “mess” in the kitchen…Junior isn’t an Iron Chef either, and you’re not his/her “prep-monkey”…clean- up is part of cooking…they might as well get that idea now instead of later. Again, do it together, and make it as fun as possible.
Remember, it’s never too young to start…
Novelist, cookbook author, and award winning food blogger, Perry P. Perkins is a work-at-home dad who lives with his wife Victoria and their young daughter Grace, in the Pacific Northwest. Perry has written for hundreds of magazines, everything from Writer’s Digest and Guideposts, to American Hunter and Bassmaster Magazine. His inspirational stories have been included in twelve Chicken Soup anthologies, as well.
Perry’s books are available at www.perryperkinsbooks.com
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