“The kitchen is the heart of the home.”
We have all heard that statement, and for me there is no greater truth.
When I met my husband, we bonded over a shared love of food. During our 20s we combined our lives and social circles over long dinner parties — often cooked entirely by my husband. Whether the discussions were about our frustrations with work and relationships, politics, or simply summer vacation plans, this was all shared in and around the kitchen.
When we entered our 30s and had kids, the kitchen took an even greater place of importance in our lives.
My husband and I always knew we wanted our kids to love and enjoy food the way we did, but we kept hearing horror stories from other families: from “My kid won’t eat any vegetables” to “My child only eats white and yellow foods.” Determined to avoid these pitfalls, we learned early that the best way we could teach our kids to be passionate about food was to involve them in the process.
We learned early that the best way we could teach our kids to be passionate about food was to involve them in the process
Just last week, we attempted the impossible: brussel sprouts. We took our daughter to the store, let her pick the brussel sprouts out herself, and sat aside while she individually peeled each leaf, seasoned them and then flash fried them. Needless to say, she devoured them. (Now, the only brussel-sprout push back we get from her is when we try and explain why they are not an appropriate topping on cereal. I swear she would eat them at every meal if we gave her the option.)
Through experiences such as this, we realized the time we spent in the kitchen wasn’t just about making food. We were actually helping our kids develop important life skills: they had more self-confidence, were expanding their vocabularies, creative thinking and math skills, plus they were working on their fine and gross motor skills. More than anything, though, we were connecting as a family. We were unplugging and spending quality time together. I recently read a theory that the common link among Rhodes Scholars wasn’t socioeconomic, geographic or based on ethnicity — it was eating family dinners three or more times a week. I believe it.
As a parent, there is so much I hope and wish for my children. I want to teach them as much as I can, so when they enter the world as adults I am confident they have the tools to succeed. Many of those tools are intrinsically tied to food — healthy, nutritious food. It is so important to keep our bodies healthy. Nutritious foods are crucial to not only our physical being, but our mental development as well.
I can’t begin to explain the pride I feel when my daughter wants to try ingredients that she thought to put together herself
Cooking and learning in the kitchen incorporates an understanding of science and chemistry, and at the same time uses your artistic and creative sides. Cooking is a skill that requires equal parts right-brain and equal parts left-brain. I can’t begin to explain the pride I feel when my daughter wants to try ingredients that she thought to put together herself. More often than not, they are tastier than I could have imagined.
Spending time in the kitchen is also about communication. Mealtime is the opportunity to make honest connections. I know the more comfortable my kids are speaking to me, the more they will share with me. I worry that so much time today is spent only communicating on tiny devices; that people will soon lose the ability to make eye contact. I read an article citing the concern that kids today can't handle conflict face to face — and are only able to do so through technology. I find their complete lack of telephone skills even more frightening. When kids spend endless hours entertained by technology, they lack skills such as creativity and self-initiation, which are crucial to happiness. These life skills can all be found and developed in the kitchen. My favorite time of day has become the simplest. Nothing makes me happier than when my entire family can be together at the dinner table, sharing everything from our days to our dreams.
Something else I’ve always been conscious of is teaching my children to be socially aware. I’ve used our time in the kitchen to do just that. It is a perfect opportunity to discuss American and worldwide hunger issues. My children are blessed to worry only about what they eat, not if they will have anything to eat — a problem that is all too real.
It is crucial for me to raise empathetic children. I want to do more than tell my children to finish their dinner, because there are starving children in Africa. I work very closely with No Kid Hungry and have brought my daughter with me, to meet kids her own age whose only full meal a day is the one they are provided at school. After that experience, my daughter understands food and hunger on an entirely different level. My daughter had a lemonade stand and wanted to give the proceeds she made back to charity. Nothing made me prouder. On her fifth birthday, instead of presents (and what kid doesn’t want presents), my daughter asked her friends to bring donations because other kids are not as lucky as them.
Nothing makes me happier than when my entire family can be together at the dinner table, sharing everything from our days to our dreams
I am not a traditional Betty Crocker mom. Growing up in New York City, the only thing I ever made were reservations. As my children discover their love of cooking, so am I. Despite a few kitchen failures (note: macaroni-and-cheese cupcakes should not be dark brown) I have also experienced satisfaction — the same satisfaction my five-year-old feels after we have prepared something the rest of the family enjoys. As an adult, I know the lasting effects that kind of empowerment has on children. More than anything, I’ve realized the most important thing my family is making in the kitchen is memories — the kind that last a lifetime.