I consider myself very blessed when it comes to food. I come from a line of gardeners and cooks. Many of my childhood memories center on the family kitchen. My siblings and I used to lay on the wood floor of the kitchen while my mom made dinner and sang opera, which was funny when we were small and slightly embarrassing as we got older ( I now subject my children to the same). Holiday meals revolved around the making of delicacies like pierogi, sour mushroom soup, and pork pie. Bowls of blackberries we picked ourselves would be covered in milk and sugar and baked into cobbler. In the summer, fresh salsa from veggies we grew was a family favorite. My dad would start his hot pepper plants in the windows of our family room in cold PA winters and watch over them like they were his babies.
From a fairly young age, my mom encouraged us to help in the kitchen while she slowly taught us the recipes that her mother had taught her and meals that were staples on our dining room table. To this day, my husband’s favorite recipe is my mom’s chicken Marsala and no matter how hard I try, it’s just never as good as hers, though I think I am getting close.
Knowing how to grow and cook my own food is one of the best lessons my family taught me. Now that my children are getting a little older, we have started some kitchen traditions of our own. Tuesday is baking day at our house. Now that we are on our more relaxed December homeschool schedule (which I LOVE LOVE LOVE), we have a little more time in the afternoon for fun projects. I have tried to balance outings with fun stay at home activities like baking and crafts. C and J look forward to baking time every week. Muffins were the recipe of the week, banana and blueberry orange oat.
In addition to Baking Day, C and J are now “in charge” of Friday dinners. They pick the menu, write the list, go shopping ( with me of course), and help with the cooking. J is only 4 but she is a great helper with measuring, mixing, and clean up. C is 6 and I have started to let him do some careful cutting and helping to cook at the range.
These are some of the lessons we’re learning in the kitchen:
Math-On Tuesdays, we take our Math book work light because I know we are going to bake. With fractions, conversions, weight, counting items to go in recipes, we are learning how math applies in everyday life. C will now tell me how many times we need to fill the 1/2 cup measuring cup if we need 3 cups. As part of our Classical Conversations curriculum, both kids have memorized some basic unit of measurement conversions ( i.e. 3 tsp =1 Tbsp). I love when they can make the connection to their memory work in the kitchen (I need to do a whole post about CC when I have time!).
Science-Baking has never been my strong point because it’s so precise. I am a bit of a messy cook and love coming up with new recipes and combinations of flavors. Cooking is very forgiving, baking, not so much. But it’s been so fun to teach the kids about why you need a certain amount of salt and sugar to help activate the yeast to make the bread rise. It’s always good to have a recipe fail once in awhile so we can hypothesize about what went wrong and how we can make changes for next time.
Vocabulary and Talk time-The kitchen has a vocabulary all it’s own. Words like “zest” are best learned in the actual zesting. We also have lots of time for questions and answers and reading while our items bake or cook.
Life skills-This one is actually the most important in my mind. I am glad to be able to give my kids a rigorous academic education. But it’s more important to me that they succeed in the world as independent adults than which college they get into or profession they pursue. When you cook your own food, you gain a grasp of where food comes from and basic economics. The kids help me price compare at the store to find the best prices on the ingredients we need. I can also show them how much more economical and healthy it is to make our own baked goods then buying them at the store at a high mark up and full of preservatives (not saying we never buy premade cookies, but you get the point).
My kids are learning to buy fresh ingredients that our best benefit our bodies. Ever since they learned about beta carotene in carrots, they always mention their improved eyesight when eating them, which makes me laugh. They are really hoping it will eventually lead to night vision. I don’t have the heart to correct that yet :).
They learn about how some things in life work best in an order when following a recipe. And one of my favorite lessons yet, resourcefulness, came up yesterday when we were out of baking powder and had to look up how to make our own (baking soda and cream of tartar, easy peasy).
If you want to take the learning to a whole new level, plant a garden. We spend the winter months pouring over seed catalogs and choosing which varieties of vegetables we will plant. My husband makes scaled drawings of the garden space and where we will plant each crop. The kids loved checking our seeds each day to see if they’d sprouted. There is nothing like going outside and choosing items for dinner from your yard, for kids and adults alike. Even at 32, I still find so much wonder in a tiny seed that grows into a mighty tree of kale or unruly vines of pumpkin. Growing our own food is such a gift from start to finish.
There is nothing like food made with time together and love, two precious commodities. I hope these lessons will stick with my boys and girl as they go out into the world with the ability to nourish the families they make.