Have you ever met someone who just intuitively knows how to cook? They know how to use new ingredients and spices in combinations they have never tried before and the food comes out yummy. They feel at home in the kitchen, regardless of whose kitchen it is. They go to the grocery store and dream up new meals just by looking at ingredients. They seem to understand cooking times without studying them.
In my experience, this type of person is fewer and fewer between. Or at least they are harder and harder to find. Even if a person is a natural cook like the person described above, we might not know it because they choose the convenience of already prepared food over being in the kitchen. I hear often from my clients, “Oh, I don’t really cook, it’s just easier to have someone else prepare the food.” I often hear from my friends and family, “let’s meet for dinner, which restaurant should we go to?” Sometimes when I go to a client’s home and ask what kind of foods they have in the house, we open the refrigerator and find nothing. I ask, but what do you eat? “We order in, or eat out.” We as a nation have moved out of the kitchen and into the restaurant which has left our next generation, our children, unfamiliar with cooking.
There may be a personality component to those natural cooks. It probably is not just learned behavior and I would be remiss not to mention that some people because of their genetic characteristics have an easier time getting in the kitchen. I think that by personality natural cooks are creatively free – meaning they both allow themselves the opportunity to make mistakes (creative license) and they don’t get bent out of shape if they actually do make a mistake, they learn from it instead. (As a side note, I attempted to cook eggplant probably 7 times in 4 different ways before I actually landed on liking the vegetable).
Even though there is a personality component to getting in the kitchen, I have never seen anyone be unable to cook if they committed to it. Cooking is a learned behavior, a practice if you will, one that is easiest to develop very early in childhood by watching and adult. I believe most natural cooks knew someone when they were children who could cook yummy food. That is precisely what I am writing about: the early experiences that children have with cooking and how that relates to a later love of preparing food. And that is what I am encouraging you do, bring your children in the kitchen, let them cook!
Firstly, we know the research suggests that if a child is exposed to a second language prior to 3 years old they are much more likely to become fluent at an older age. The language actually becomes a part of their brain development, building connections between synapses. Secondly, we know that children learn behaviors (what’s good and what’s not so good) by watching the adults in their lives (social learning theory, Lev Vygotsky). Thirdly, we know people often do what they feel comfortable doing and we know people feel comfortable doing what they have seen other people do. Lastly and anecdotally, (I am not aware of any research yet), it is said amongst health counselors that children who eat healthy food from 0 – 5 years old usually return to healthy eating patterns early in adulthood.
These are the four elements that combine to make my recommendation: Bring your children into the kitchen! Get them cooking and eating the food you prepare together. Do that as early as you can, make the learning developmentally appropriate so they can participate safely with success. From birth to 2 they may be in a carrier or snuggly while you cook or you may get them a kid’s kitchen with pots and pans and foods. After 2 years old, they may begin learning how to stir, wash, sort, taste test and add spices. The secondary gains are huge: Building memories, increasing self-esteem, saving money, warding off disease. But the primary gain, their confidence in preparing their own foods is immeasurable. If the world continues to go in the direction it is going, at some point we may not have stoves, only tubes where prepared food drops in to our kitchen, but your children will already have reaped the benefit. They will be more confidant, their brains will be sharper from the creative and challenging process and if nothing else, they will have many friends; everyone loves a good cook!
I have had parents tell me that their children are too small to be in the kitchen, “they are not old enough.” During that same conversation, I look over and their 2 ½ year old is sitting playing with an iphone 4 with ease. The children are smart enough, I promise you, it is the parents who must shift their priorities and decide to cook again. If you are not willing to cook for your own benefits, get in the kitchen for the benefits of your children who need to see you preparing food in order to learn to prepare their own food. The first time your child prepares a meal for you, and your heart is beaming with pride and anticipation, don’t hesitate to drop me a line and let me know. But even better then telling me; tell all your friends and your friends’ friends and their friends’ friends so that soon all over the world kitchen lights will be on and pilot lights will be igniting. That way, we as a community can be sure our children’s bellies will be perfectly provided for.