|Children should be taught their way around the kitchen, and that includes learning how to handle a knife.
A SINGULAR LIFE
By ASHA GILL
I decided to revisit a radio show I did a couple of weeks ago on teaching children kitchen duties because I am perplexed by the responses that came in.
By bringing up this topic again, I hope to understand people’s perspectives better. Yes, I am seeking your thoughts here. If nothing else but to prove perhaps to myself I am not so errant in my beliefs. So this one’s open to the floor, people.
You know, here in Asia, we are pretty much a lucky bunch. Most people have help in the home to do all the chores that really eat away into quality time. Some of us don’t, and we manage on completely different systems. For those who don’t have help, the most pervasive feeling is that of being overwhelmed.
One of the many areas that used to overwhelm me, that has lessened immensely as my Little Man evolves, is the making of dinner. That time between finishing work, dealing with traffic, being exhausted and having to focus on feeding the zoo inhabitants was my Achilles’ heel. The need to deliver fresh food prepared in a decent manner for the child was priority, the reality was not often a matching scenario.
There were days when I could do nothing more than a fast food equivalent and I would weep into the toasted cheese sarnie with tomatoes and cucumber like a failure. Which is daft considering it’s better than a vat of chips and salt, or the fifth meal of the week courtesy of the golden arches.
My plan was hatched when the Little Man was three and a half. As he was always around me in the kitchen, I actually started setting him to work. We had our kitchen “steps,” our aprons and many bits of equipment that wouldn’t harm him much. As for accidents, they could be sorted with a sweep and a mop. A bit of mess didn’t matter in the bigger scheme of what I was trying to do with my son.
My needs were these - more quality time with the monster, help making dinner and washing up, and teaching my son good habits and skills. A child needs to know his kitchen duty, just like any other household duty, in order to be fully capable of looking after himself.
Okay, at this point I am sure some people are rolling their eyes. It’s not abuse of my child in any way, I promise. We often read, talk and share about how our kids astound us with their capabilities when they are given half a chance, and this is one such area. By the time Little Man was four he was cracking eggs for me perfectly, washing vegetables, setting the table while ripping apart beans and broccoli for me to cook up. The child was invested in what he ate and constantly asking me what things were good for. He started getting involved in herbs, spices and occasionally experimented with his own concoctions, which never turned out badly.
When I started out on this road, I followed my mum’s safety rules of child-friendly “sharp” things and discovered that they didn’t work. In fact, blunt edged knives, rounded plastic scissors and all the implements that he could use were useless in the kitchen. And funnily enough, quite dangerous!
So, when he was four, I shelved the kiddie stuff and let loose Little Man’s natural ninja inside. I gave him real graters, peelers and scissors. The knives we started off with were cutlery knives. As for using the blender, it was easy-peasy lemon-squeezy.
Today we graduated again. He told me he was ready for a “real” knife and to cook over the fire. So, he did.
He sliced cucumbers for dinner and gently, over a very, very low heat, fried the garlic, yellow peppers and onions for the fajitas we were having for dinner. I handled the chicken and he decided to make a pesto yoghurt and parmesan spread for the tortillas. (This is the first time my mother will be hearing about giving my child knives and she is going to kill me.)
I love the fact that my five-year-old has enough gumption to get an omelette together – eggs, seasoning and a dash of milk. I love the fact he can tell what’s cooking from the smells. I love the fact that he chooses what vegetables we’ll have and get them all ready for dinner by himself and today, even cook them.
I especially love the fact that we are doing it together. The conversations, fun we have and the laughter are priceless – even when he spits out his own food and says “Mum, I put too much devil dust on the chicken.”
When he made his teacher’s birthday cake last week, he did it all by himself. I helped with the weighing of certain things, but he read the recipe, told me what to get, how much to weigh out and what steps we had to follow. He was in charge, and I saw “fire” in his eyes.
Am I proud of him? Yes, I am. Not because of what he has achieved, but because he realises how much he is capable of. The skills he learns from kitchen chores and every other way he helps me make him embrace how much he can do. That is a good thing.
The horror some may feel about me letting him use real equipment (always under supervision, I assure you) or why I am even asking this of a boy, really confused me. It has also been said that the whole point of having a “helper” is to do it for you. The thing is, and I get this from my mum, help is great,fantastic and better than a kick in the teeth.
Not knowing basic life skills though, can severely hinder you later in life and can perhaps even cast “fear” of the unknown, unwittingly. As for boys learning how to cook, all the men in my life are killer cooks.
I want to spend time with my son and this is all I can give him at that time of day. For what it’s worth, it seems just as valuable as a jaunt down the park or a game of monopoly. Except in this case ... we play with real fire and real blades now. Pretty cool if you think about it. Even Ninjas need to know how to eat.
Asha Gill put her globetrotting life on hold to focus on the little man in her life and gain a singular perspective on the world. You can tune in to Asha’s show Eat, Love, Play on Capital FM 88.9, Mondays to Fridays, 10am-1pm. She’s always looking for stories to tell and ideas to share, so send her an email at email@example.com.