Fostering an interest in food and cooking is one of the nicest things adults can do for children, and Islander Day provides an opportunity for cooking together.
Cooking is a life skill that everyone needs, unless they are rich enough to hire a personal chef or eat out every day or have a life partner who is willing and able to do all the food preparation.
Besides being a fun activity with a reward at the end, preparing food has other benefits. It provides practice at following written instructions and can help kids learn about organization, food safety, nutrition, mathematical concepts such as volume and weight, and scientific phenomena, including chemical reactions. It fosters a sense of pride and accomplishment that results from doing something useful and affords the pleasure of experiencing the sight, aroma and taste of well-prepared food.
What should you cook with your children? That depends on many things: your comfort with various cooking activities; dietary constraints; the amount of time you can spend; the ingredients and equipment available; the child’s interests, age and abilities.
Sometimes people assume that kids have no appetite for anything besides chicken fingers, hot dogs and cookies. Not so. What children like to eat depends on the types of foods they have had the opportunity to try, their tolerance for strong flavours and the messages they get from adults who are influential to them. When children ask for a food they don’t normally eat, a parent or caregiver can respond in a discouraging (You wouldn’t eat that!) or an encouraging (Have a taste. It’s good!) way.
This is something to keep in mind when cooking with kids. When they suggest making a dish you doubt they will enjoy, you can affirm their choice and encourage a cooking adventure or guide the child toward playing it safe and making something you are sure they’ll like.
Of course, trying a new dish comes with no guarantees. My experiment of making a vegetable soup with one of my children was a dismal failure in the short-term. After we spent the better part of an afternoon making the soup, she hated it. I might add, though, that as an adult she has a very adventurous palate.
Sometimes the child’s sense of adventure introduces adults to new foods. I first tasted pork tenderloin when one of our kids copied a dish that a television chef had made.
Just last month, a grandchild, when given the chance to decide what we would prepare together, decided on a dinner of raw parsnip noodles tossed with basil pesto, a delicious raw vegan selection I’d never have tried on my own.
When you feel like taking a more conventional approach, baking cookies is a classic activity for parents or grandparents and children. Since Valentines Day is the day before Islander Day this year, baking cookies and decorating them on a Valentines theme is a natural Islander Day baking project.
You can make rolled cookies, and cut in heart shapes or make drop cookies and decorate with icing and/or other appropriate trims.
Here is a recipe that I use for rolled cookies. I adapted it slightly from one found on the packaging of a cookie cutter I use. I add the 2 mL of salt only if making the batter with unsalted butter.
I like the way the flavour and texture of these cookies change when I replace 250 mL (1 cup) of all purpose flour with an equal amount of whole wheat flour.
From Ann Clark Ltd.
250 mL (1 cup) butter
150 mL (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
5 mL (1 tsp) vanilla
2 mL (½ tsp) salt
625 mL (2 ½ cups) all purpose flour
Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg.
Add the vanilla, salt (if using) and flour and mix until ingredients are well-blended.
Wrap tightly, and chill for 1/2 to 1 hour before rolling.
Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F). Roll dough 6 mm (¼ inch) thick and cut with a floured cookie cutter.
Bake 8-10 minutes, or until barely coloured. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes before moving cookies to wire racks to finish cooling.
Frost and decorate or eat plain.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.