Food is a universal language that brings the family together. Nothing is better than sharing a meal with the people you love. The dining room table is the perfect forum — a place for communication and bonding. Preparing a meal as a family can also be a valuable learning experience for all ages. Cooking with kids not only helps to develop problem-solving skills and creativity, but also fosters awareness for nutrition and exposure to different cultures.
My parents have always been magicians in the kitchen. They are amazing chefs and share a passion for food — both cooking and eating it. As a young child I hung around the kitchen, fascinated by what went on at the counter (or at least as much as I could see at three feet tall). I was always zealous — wanting to help out and sample the meal. Even filling a pot with water or washing a few vegetables was a treat. I was fascinated by the chemistry of cooking. I was amazed how a few eggs, a lump of butter, flour, and a handful of chocolate chips could somehow transform into a mouthwatering cookie. It wasn’t long before I begged my parents to teach me how to cook.
Early cooking lessons proved to be useful. I quickly learned how to follow directions. My earliest cooking experience was making banana muffins with my mom when I was 3 years old. Even though I was too little to know how to read recipes, my mom gave me verbal instructions and insisted that I try my best. She told me what to add, how much to add, and when to stir. She even demonstrated how to crack eggs and encouraged me to mimic her. Needless to say, this quickly became chaotic as eggshells found their way into the recipe. Let’s just say that a clumsy 3-year-old and a delicate egg apparently don’t go hand-in-hand!
Learning to cook also helped me learn about nutrition and a balanced diet. With obesity on the rise, it is imperative that kids understand healthy eating, especially at a young age. I was an extremely picky eater when I was younger. I don’t recall taking a liking to anything except tomatoes, cucumbers, and ice cream. My parents drilled into my head the importance of a varied diet. They taught me how to make different foods, from salads (vegetables) to sandwiches (meat and grains), eggs (protein), and smoothies (fruit). They opened my eyes (and mouth) to all the food groups and cajoled me into eating things I normally wouldn’t try. It worked. I was so proud of my cooking that I would happily consume the entire meal!
Cooking also broadened my horizon in a cultural aspect. America is a mixing pot of many different flavors. It is crucial that children explore other cultures and learn to respect them. Connecting with your own heritage is also important. What better way to travel around the world than via a food tour right in your own kitchen? My parents used cooking as a way to introduce me to different ethnic dishes and also my roots as a Chinese-American. I learned to cook American hamburgers, Italian pasta and pizza, Japanese sushi, Mexican gazpacho, French crepes, English shepherd’s pie, and Chinese fried rice and dumplings. I was fascinated by the unique cuisines different cultures offered, and I learned to accept and appreciate the differences.
As I grew older, cooking took on a new purpose. It became more of a practical skill, preparing me to survive on my own in college and afterwards. My parents gave me full control of the kitchen (while poking their heads in now and then to make sure the house was not on fire). They granted me the freedom to find my own recipes, buy all the ingredients, and cook my own meal. It was challenging, yet liberating. It soon became a test of problem-solving. I quickly learned the disappointments of cooking. Not everything turns out as planned. I recently attempted to make chocolate lava cakes from scratch. It was one of the most difficult dishes I’ve ever cooked, requiring meticulous and precise timing. A lava cake needs an outer layer of soft cake with a gooey center of warm chocolate. It is fairly easy to overcook or undercook this cake. Despite having a recipe, I was forced to tweak and estimate in order to execute a perfect cake. The first cake was overcooked (aka a brownie), which forced me to bake the second cake for less time. Unluckily for me, the next cake was undercook (aka chocolate fondue). Baking the third cake for a time somewhere in between the first two tries finally triumphed as the perfect lava cake.
Also, being older, I realized that cooking could lead to creativity. I learned to alter or use recipes as a foundation to which I could add and subtract. I began to create my own recipes, mostly through trial and error. I also learned the importance of plating and presentation. Visually appealing meals tend to enhance the experience! Little bits of garnish can go a long way. Experimenting with my favorite foods often yielded surprising results. Cooking is an adventure for kids and parents. It is a test of following directions for children and a test of patience for parents. It is also a useful skill you can use the rest of your life. Still, the best part of cooking as a family is finally sharing the meal. So gather the family and try out a new culinary creation together. Bon appetite!
Aglaia Ho is a 16-year-old student from Queens who enjoys writing. Her work has been published in Creative Kids, Skipping Stones, Daily News/Children’s Pressline, and The State of the Wild.