Following the release of my newest cookbook, Let My Children Cook! A Passover Cookbook for Kids, people often ask me whether it’s REALLY possible to get the kids to be helpful in the kitchen with all the holiday food prep. The answer is: Yes!! While it may take longer to peel those potatoes or to whisk the eggs, it’s well worth it. Kids love to be helpful (though it may not always seem that way!) and little jobs keep them entertained during the pre-Passover hustle and bustle. Besides, they’ll always remember it as special quality time and will even learn along the way.
Over the years, my kids have spent many enjoyable hours in the kitchen with me. I find it’s all about expectations. I try to set out a certain amount of time we will spend together and try not to push it. Cooking with kids is wonderful but best if done in increments rather than a marathon of kitchen time. If there’s more to be done, I finish it myself after they’ve gone to bed. For the younger ones, I make sure to designate very specific, simple jobs. Once they finish, say, rolling out dough for cookies or chopping veggies for a salad, I make sure to thank them and let them know they’ve been very helpful. This has proven to have gone over well in my family, as my bigger kids are now great cooks. They truly love to prepare anything – but they do have a preference for desserts. (Who doesn’t?!) My son is excellent at braiding challah (not for Passover, of course) and baking apple crisps. Last year, my girls made delicious potato blintzes and Passover egg noodles.
Besides for keeping my kids involved, our time spent in the kitchen together also serves as bonding time. Everyone says they grow up too fast…and it’s true! Soon they’ll be busy with friends and other interests. I like to make cooking time an enjoyable activity for the family, even if it may take longer than doing on my own. Memories that will last a lifetime are being formed. We even have some funny stories involving a few kitchen flops that certainly won’t be forgotten. I once made a beautiful cake with my children and it slipped out of the pan right onto the counter. Of course, they were thrilled since they got to eat it right then and there.
So, I say, instead of dreading the hours of cooking and baking you are planning, embrace it. Get the kids some cute aprons, put on some music, enjoy the quality time. When you sense they’ve had enough, do some crafts together (that is why I included some crafts in Let My Children Cook!) and sit the kids down with some art supplies. The atmosphere will be pleasant and you will be able to check some things off that pre-Passover “to do” list while creating positive memories.
The Jewish world is full of debates. Get the latest in MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter.
I’ll confess right off that this is not my most embarrassing culinary moment, because I actually air the worst ones in my cookbooks. Like “Brisket: A Love Story,” “Chicken Soup: A Disaster Story,” and “Chocolate Mousse: A Scary Story.” Although all could be simply classified as epic kitchen tragedies. Dunno why exactly I always tell all. Must be that I feel taking the humiliation to an uber-public level will serve as penance of some kind. But that’s just a guess, after all I am a cookbook author, not a psychotherapist.
You see, I was not a “born cook.” (But boy was I born to eat!) So when I had to cook up my very first Shabbat meal as a married lady, every course was a different form of disaster. You wouldn’t think there are so many ways to ruin good food.
My potato kugel was a perfect example. Sitting at our Shabbat table was Hubby, my mommy, my granddaddy and my dear sis. They had all come to “help” this inexperienced cook, not to snicker. At least that’s what they said. When it came time to serve the kugel, even I knew that it didn’t even resemble one. It looked more like an off-color giant latka that had been run over by a truck. I cried, and I decided not to serve it.
But I couldn’t fool Hubby. He knew I had labored over it because potato kugel is one of his favorite Shabbat foods. So he asked about it. I shook my head, wide-eyed. “Come, on, I know you prepared it,” he prodded gently. I shook my head again, searching his face desperately for understanding. Finally, staring at my shoes, I whispered that I was too embarrassed to bring it out. He sweetly, calmly and lovingly told me that I should never be embarrassed about my food, that I had worked hard on it for him and he wanted to have his new wife’s first potato kugel. (He scored extra points from the family with that speech.) So head hung, I brought it out. A suppressed gasp gripped the table. Hubby smiled weakly. Everyone else looked over their shoulders at the wall, the ceiling, the floor. But he gallantly cut himself a piece and sent it down, as I watched in horror. Ever the noble prince, he actually ate another piece. Then he announced his verdict. “Perfect,” he paused, “for a Passover cake!”
That’s his secret: when I want to cry, he makes me laugh. When I want to scream, he makes me laugh. So I laughed through my tears, everyone relaxed, and the kugel mysteriously disappeared from the table.