[Disclaimer: During more than 20 years of writing, blogging and creating content in the parenting space, I have rarely spoken directly about or included photos of my children. This must be important and special!]
On the list of personal parenting priorities, this one has always ranked quite high for me.
It made the list early on, and over the years, has risen in importance.
The rationale for it being so important is far from flashy. It is rooted in fact.
A life skill? Definitely.
Why? Darned if I know. I have never been able to figure that one out.
My motivation for spending years on this skill — cultivating it in different ways — during the various ages and stages of parenting is simple: I do not want to raise ‘useless’ children.
Sound harsh? Nope. And by the way, use of the word ‘useless’ is absolutely intentional.
Here’s the bottom line: We need to eat to live. Period.
Before I became a mom, I remember a conversation about this very topic with a talented cook and dedicated homemaker.
She summarized it this way: “If you can read, you can cook.” Full stop.
Succinct. Nothing to debate about here.
She balked, actually condemned the notion of people who can’t cook.
Sure, there are those with a natural aptitude for cooking. Those who operate like scientists in a lab when it comes to ingredients and the kitchen.
The skilled creators who can literally transform leftovers into a full feast and the magicians who seem to regularly wave a wand to turn a bare pantry into a memorable meal.
I am none of the above.
What I am, however, is:
- a lover of tasty food
- a slave to fresh ingredients
- a proponent of home-cooked meals and
- someone who enjoys the incredible gift of eating a meal with others.
You can learn so much about someone else by ‘breaking bread’ with them.
The sharing of stories, the exchanging of ideas, the insightful conversation that ensues during the simple act of sitting at a table to eat a meal together — just never gets old.
My skills in the kitchen are modest — honed over years of practice and refinement.
It started with my parents. Both of them were exceptional in the kitchen.
They introduced my sister and I to that environment at a young age — somewhere around 7 or 8.
They cooked on Sundays for the week, which was our living classroom.
We ate almost all meals together.
Mealtime in my childhood was a cherished event — preceded by thought, planning, action and ultimately enjoyment.
My dad used to say and still maintains this: “You need two things in the kitchen — interest and ingredients.” You cannot have one without the other. So, so, so true.
For my part, I need to follow recipes. Working from memory is not my forte.
Thank goodness for the internet and video recipes. Together, they have singlehandedly vaulted by repertoire from 40 or so dishes — I once itemized our dish rotation with my family during the 5-hour drive from Toronto to Montreal feeling that it needed a boost —to a number that I have not recently tallied.
Along the way, my contribution to continuing the tradition of enjoying food, taking an interest in preparing it and producing deliciousness has remained constant.
Since our three children were babies, my husband and I strived to make grocery shopping a family event.
We would bundle them up, no matter the circumstance, weather or exhaustion, and take them shopping, every week.
The power of a grocery store to teach, captivate and mesmerize — kids and adults alike — should never be underestimated. There is always something new to see, explore and examine in there.
As they got older, our kids were no longer mere passengers in the grocery cart.
They had to actively contribute before even entering the store.
In this case, the requisite grocery list preparation — another family event.
“What do we feel like eating this week?” My familiar refrain would start the wheels in motion. Everyone would eventually pipe in, a list would form, a plan hatch and off we would go to follow through.
From a young age, they would watch us and participate however they could, in the kitchen.
In the toddler years, that meant taking out every pot and pan and putting it back!
Later it evolved to find and retrieve — ingredients from the fridge or wherever.
When they were old enough to understand that knives are sharp and stoves hot — somewhere around seven or eight, it progressed to active participation in meal preparation.
During the pre-adolescent years, as they embraced greater independence, there would be meals prepared almost exclusively by young hands — with adult support and supervision, where necessary.
The ritual of cooking on Sundays for the week has been a fixture in our house almost since day one of being parents. Our record for producing six meals is about 2 hours flat.
And that leads us to recent years.
The catalogue of dishes is vast and varied. Baking, barbecuing and other cooking techniques are mainstays in the rotation.
No dish is too intimidating to try. Their creativity and confidence usually high.
The finished product, even if it doesn’t meet each child’s vision or personal standards, is a triumph in the learning process.
Somewhat ironically, or maybe not, our kids, now 23, 21 and 17, have all worked part-time in a restaurant over the past few years.
In their case, a restaurant that is categorized as casual upscale.
They always come back with fascinating stories of the skill, teamwork, stress, organization and everything else it takes to produce a dish that is both a feast for the eyes and the stomach — with the clock ticking on orders from inside the restaurant or online. It is constant. The demand for perfect replication of the dish in the beautiful photograph — unyielding.
After all, we eat with our eyes.
What has struck me is how they rarely seem intimidated working in that environment.
Whether at the grill, chopping and assembling salads, artfully decorating a dessert plate or overseeing the composition and aesthetic of a dish — as the last set of eyes — before it lands in front of the customer. The clock never stops in that environment.
Everything is timed from when the order is entered to the time it is delivered. Non-stop.
Or so they tell me. I have never worked, nor could ever contemplate working in a restaurant. Not my cup of tea, thank you.
However this all happened, my husband and I celebrate it as we chew happily!
We also relish in the more-often-than-not meals prepared entirely by one of the three!
We are regularly politely told to “please stay out of the kitchen. It’s all under control!” Music to my ears personally, as I sit at the table, fork and knife ready for action!
VIDEO: Lianne’s eldest son in 2011, at age 13, demonstrating a muffin recipe.
All I ever really wanted was for each of them to:
- be able to fry an egg and prepare a basic meal for themselves
- understand and appreciate the steps involved in getting a meal to the table
- not be useless
- know what to do when they are hungry
- fend for themselves at the thought of composing a meal
- understand cooking is not a gender-based activity
- not drive any future partners or spouses nuts (if my kids’ are unable to produce a meal)
Another fact: Each of our kids is a better cook then either my husband or myself.
We learn from them, regularly!
One of the best ways to a parent’s heart? Is there any question?