• Adeeba Jafri

Teens and Tweens in the Kitchen


There are two types of moms. The ones who welcome their children into the kitchen and smile lovingly as they spill eggs, flour and salt all over the kitchen counters, creating a (usually inedible) work of culinary art.


And then there are moms like me, who (not so) kindly ask the kids to stay OUT of the kitchen so she can cook in peace while simultaneously drowning her sorrows to the sound of BSB or Linkin Park blaring on her headphones.


I have always been mom #2. I never particularly enjoyed having four little kids (my daughter was 7 when I had kid #4 so you can imagine) crawling around the kitchen or coming up to me with a “Can I help?” And it’s not just me. My mom and my sisters are the same. Our answer? Go watch something kid. Mama needs to secretly finish the last bite off of five different plates.

This was my general attitude until I traveled to Pakistan for our usual family visit. What I saw in the kitchen blew my mind. My SIL (Allah rarhamha) had trained her three teenage daughters to cook. I mean really cook! Whereas my kids were allowed to “mix the batter” once all the necessary ingredients were added, her girls were fully capable of measuring, baking, chopping and sautéing dishes that I didn’t know how to make! Because of their skills, my SIL and I were able to shop and even eat out in ease, knowing that the girls had dinner covered.

How? I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing all of the tips that my SIL taught me. In writing these tips, I hope and pray that this advice becomes a form of charity for her, as she passed away from breast cancer a few years ago.


The first question you might have is: "When do I start?"

That depends on your own kid. You might have one kid that is more suited for chopping (bc they have a weird obsession with knives) while another is interested in using the stove (again, weird obsession with fire). Regardless, once you read through my blog post, you’ll find yourself saying “hey, I think (one of) my kids can do that!”


Chopping

At the risk of sounding like a US president, this is a huge, HUGE investment. Teach your kids how to chop, dice, julienne, etc. There are loads of kid-friendly knives on the market. Avoid using a dull knife because it forces the child to put more pressure when they cut, which may result in injury. My 13y/o loves Spanish eggs and I taught him how to cut the tomatoes and coriander. On the weekends, I can rely on him to have these ingredients chopped and ready for me to cook with.


Use books

Yes, I know the Tasty and Tastemade videos are great but have you noticed the comments sections of these videos? A lot of people comment that their food did NOT come out like the video. I always advise my kids to stick to cookbooks with recipes that have already been tried and tested multiple times before being published. Our favorite cookbooks are the Betty Crocker Cookbook and the Williams Sonoma Cookbook for Kids. Last year, we also picked up a copy of America's Most Wanted Recipes, which has copycat recipes from various food chains. I also advise my kids not to substitute anything until they have made the dish several times.



Avoid the ready made spices

South Asian meals are my go-to because our family is ethnically from Pakistan. Unfortunately, that fact does not qualify me as the best Pakistani chef. Rather, I am the queen of hoarding Shan masalas. It is embarrassing and empowering at the same time. I have an entire IKEA box full of spices. My friends know that even if I'm at work, they can swing by my place to pick up a box and I wouldn't even know the difference. (You know who you are). But here’s the thing: I don’t want my kids to learn to cook using ready-made spices. Instead, I encourage my teens to test how each spice tastes and then train them to balance the spices against one another.


Watch Cooking / Baking Shows

Who doesn't love a cooking show? They're so much fun to watch. Our favorites are Chopped and Cupcake Wars. The Tasty and Tastemade videos are lots of fun to watch. I also recommend watching Masterchef Junior because that is a show with kid chefs. Recently, my kids have been watching Nadiya's Time to Eat on Netflix.



Tell THEM to choose the dish

This was my SIL's approach. She encouraged her kids to start with their favorite dishes. So one of the girls makes an amazing pilau. Why? Because that’s her favorite dish. She focused on making that one dish over and over until she perfected it. My other niece makes a killer fusion stir fry and fried rice. I tell my kids : make what YOU want to eat. If they're making a dish that they like, they're much more inclined to (a) put some effort in it and (b) get it right.


Kitchen Chores

Part of the reason I avoided having my kids in the kitchen was because I simply did not want to clean up after them. I was always annoyed with a sink full of pots and pans, flour on the floor, and dishes racked incorrectly in the dishwasher. Kitchen chores takes loads of practice and it's best to start young. Older ones can do some of the bigger tasks (cleaning inside the microwave from an exploding experiment) while little ones can practice putting the forks and spoons away properly. It's a work in progress. Even teens sometimes need a nudge on where to put the orange juice away (clearly NOT in the cupboard)



Take a back seat

The general rule when it comes to raising teens is that they despise hovering. At the same time, they expect you to drop everything when they say, "Moooooom, is the chicken supposed to look like this?." Do not hover around when the kids are cooking, ""You're doing it wrong. Just LET ME DO IT." But at the same time, do not leave the house just in case you smell something burning. We've had multiple instances where (a) the fridge was left open, (b) the electric stove was left on, (c) the oven was left on and even (d) all of the above.


These are some of the points that I learned along the way, from my SIL's experience and my own. Over the years, my teens have learned to chop, sauté and bake their way through the kitchen. It took me a while to allow them to cook with raw meat but they proved me wrong. They each have their own skills and interests in the kitchen and now, I just leave them be. They have learned NOT to make a mess while cooking and if they do, well, they're not allowed to leave the kitchen until the mess has been cleaned up. #toughlove


This post was made in collaboration with three other moms whose teens and tweens also work in the kitchen.


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