Last Thursday I volunteered in Caleb's preschool classroom. The teachers asked all families to send in recipes of their kids' favorite snacks and to volunteer for 30 minutes to cook with the kids. Being indecisive, I sent in 2 recipes: applesauce and zucchini bread. My volunteer date eventually arrived, and I packed up all the stuff I thought the school wouldn't have (food processor, zucchini, raisins, loaf pans).
I had SO much fun watching the kids mix and pour. I had SO much fun sharing the zucchini with the kids. I brought an extra one so the kids could pass it around. Zucchini make excellent horns, by the way, and acting like they are horns gets a lot of 3-4 year old giggles. I managed not to scare any of the kiddies with the food processor by giving them warning that it makes a lot of noise. And apparently the kids liked the bread just fine, though Caleb said some of the kids thought it was strange. I guess Caleb and I are going to have to get used to people thinking I'm strange. :)
When I entered Caleb's classroom, one of his teachers helped me find a place for my bag of tricks. She then told me that Caleb has the healthiest lunches she has ever seen in the school and that he eats really well. She told me he doesn't throw food and that he rarely needs reminders to finish eating or to clean up when he is done. I just beamed. I can't take full credit as Caleb is his own individual and makes his own choices, but I'm super glad that he is making choices that we wanted and encouraged him to make. I'm also delighted that the lunches I've been sending have been noticed.
OK, so self-congratulatory comments aside, I also found it interesting to watch how the kids responded to a cooking project. Some of the kids were fascinated and were begging for turns at this or that. Other kids wander to and from the table. I figured this was normal preschool behavior until another teacher said "You can always tell which kids cook at home." I asked her to explain even though I knew what she meant. The kids who cook at home or see cooking at home stayed at the table. The kids who aren't involved in food preparation at home wandered. I thought about that on my way home.
Why do some people cook with their kids while others do not? When do I choose to include Caleb and when do I ask or tell him to find something else to do?
Cooking with kids takes time and patience. Most people are lacking one of those two requirements. I don't have a lot of patience, and sometimes I don't have much time. Yet I like cooking with Caleb. It does take longer. It can be messier. It is rarely peaceful, and I like to cook as almost a spiritual or meditative experience. I like cooking with Caleb because I want him to know how food is made. I want him to know how to provide good real food for himself and others. Yes, I know that cooking can teach lots of other skills - math, science, the value of family traditions. I want Caleb to know that food doesn't always come from a box or the freezer to the microwave.
I'm not sure why I want Caleb to know this. I know I am passing on to him something that Aaron and I enjoy doing. I know I am passing along recipes and "techniques" that work for us. I guess I want Caleb to have a healthy relationship with food. And yes, I do believe we have a relationship to food. I think that we can develop a healthy relationship to food by knowing where it comes from, how it is prepared, and how our bodies and minds use it. Participating in our CSA, going to the farmers' market, and shopping together shows Caleb where our food comes from. Cooking with Caleb and talking about how we made things shows him how raw ingredients become the foods he enjoys. And as we eat the foods we make together, we can talk about what we like doing so that we can focus on how food gives us the energy to enjoy life.