The boys and I were home together on Monday, thanks to Casimir Pulaski. At some point in the morning they asked for a snack and I suggested they go make their own, so off they ran. I am constantly working on independence with these boys; one of my greatest hopes is that they grow up to be men who can do as much around the house as their father does. I pondered this as I heard them getting out cheese, crackers, and apples for their snack, and realized that with nothing on the agenda for the afternoon, it would be a good day for an endeavor I’d been meaning to suggest for a while: letting this 5- and 9-year old pair do some cooking on their own.
The boys loved this idea, and excitedly pored over our kids’ cookbooks while they ate their snack. I told them they could make a snack, dessert, dinner, whatever they wanted, as long as we had all the ingredients in the house, and that they’d be doing it on their own. Although I happen to prefer the recipes in the Pretend Soup cookbook, they chose two recipes from Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual. By some miraculous twist of fate, they actually chose a dinner (burritos) and dessert (brownies) that we had all the ingredients for.
One of things I loved about this experience was seeing Baxter stopping to think about the Big Picture®, right from the start. He figured out on his own what time they should start making each of the recipes, based on how long they were estimated to take and when we wanted to eat dinner, and he accepted my suggestion that they might want to add more time to the plan since it was their first time making each one. It hadn’t occurred to me how much executive functioning is required to plan, prepare, and make a meal; it’s wonderful practice for kids and I was happy to see how much it’s developed in Baxter this year!
With the brownies, I helped by getting out many of the ingredients since our baking ingredients are so high in our cupboards that even I can’t reach them without a stool. Once everything was out on the counter and I’d instructed Baxter on how to turn on the oven to preheat, I stepped away. I set up my computer at the dining room table, just a few feet away, and did some work. I watched in amazement as they accurately measured ingredients, took turns, and discussed how it was going. I saw Baxter automatically get out a knife to level the dry ingredients, and watched Lyle find a spoon to retrieve the many egg shells he’d dropped into the batter. Baxter laughed and exclaimed, “Oh my God, Lyle!” when Lyle dumped the egg on the counter and the shell into the bowl. Lyle enthusiastically repeated my mantra when baking with them, “Mistakes were made, messes were cleaned up!” as he cheerfully fished out the shells. They asked me a few questions (“Mommy, why isn’t there a 3/4 cup here!” and “When the oven preheats, why doesn’t it keep getting hotter?”) but I only got up to take pictures.
I realized watching them that so many things I assumed they knew – such as where we keep the mixing spoons and the use of different measuring cups for liquids and solids – had to be discovered when doing the job themselves. I think that even when we’re teaching our kids so much by our sides, they can’t fully learn the skill until they have the opportunity to problem-solve their way through it on their own. For the record, if they had messed something up – like left eggshells in or not mixed it well – I would not have said a word. They’d have learned from their mistakes when they bit into crunchy brownies or got a mouthful of salt.
Spreading Crisco on the brownie pan almost made Baxter gag.
Those textures freak him out.
Taking turns stirring the mix. I was relieved they didn’t ask for the Kitchen Aid!
Overheard: Lyle – “Can I eat some sugar with my hands?” Baxter – “No, that would taste…overwhelming.”
They worked hard at mixing and to their credit it was well-blended. I didn’t anticipate that.
Overheard: Baxter – “This is starting to smell really exciting!”
The only thing I had to help with was lifting that heavy bowl so they could scrape it.
Licking the spoons was, of course, a highlight worth waiting for.
He was a mess, but a very happy mess.
Looking good! Baxter put it into the hot oven on his own-
it was very hard not to intercept with that, but I succeeded.
Later in the afternoon, they started the burritos. I realized that despite all the baking the boys and I have done together, I’ve rarely cooked with them. This is due in part to the time of day when I make dinner – if they’re not doing homework or practicing their instruments, it’s their first downtime to take a break before we eat. Also, frankly, I think kids are just generally more excited about the outcome of baking projects. Between inexperience and the fact that this meal was to be concocted over an open flame, I stayed closer by while they made the burritos on the stove top. Baxter made his own, melting butter on the pan and then turning up the heat to lay his tortilla on a pan and adding ingredients before folding it over and covering it to cook. He learned how to control the burners and how to coordinate everything while wearing an oven mitt. Baxter also chose the vegetable to have on the side – I thought corn was a perfect choice!
Lyle made his as well, standing on a stool and feeling pretty cautious around the gas burner. I worked with him to figure out how much he could do safely, which was most of the process. I have to say, those burritos were really quite delicious!
Baxter loved his burrito and was so proud of himself!
So was Lyle!
I put Baxter in charge of cutting the brownies for dessert.
The boys thought we should each get a quarter of the pan, at which point we intervened.
Everything was delicious and I couldn’t have been prouder of the kids. We talk about so many important childhood milestones, but I’ve decided the day that your kids plan, make, and serve you dinner themselves is a pretty great one.