scoop and nuke : a lesson from wee ones in the kitchen

This morning as usual, I asked my son what he wanted for breakfast – eggs, oatmeal or homemade granola and yogurt.

He answered “eggies”, then grabbed a big ladle and ran around the kitchen hollering

Scoop and Nuke! Scoop and Nuke! SCOOP! AND! NUKE!

Ah. Yikes.

Of course I burst out laughing. He’s never said “Scoop” or “Nuke” before . . . but clearly he’s been paying attention to his parents in the kitchen.

I do a ton of batch cooking and leftover nights in our house are universally known as Scoop and Nuke.

This morning’s hilarious outburst got me thinking about how things would be different if we had a different food culture in our house.

He just as easily could have been hollering for a Happy Meal.

Before I became a mum I intellectually understood that kids were little sponges, but it wasn’t until I had E that I really started to understand what that means for day-to-day life.

We involve E a lot in the kitchen. As soon as he sees me get the mixing bowl out he’s dragging the kitchen chair across the room pleading in his irresistible little voice “Helping?”

He knows how to grind the morning coffee, season food by sprinkling things from “high in the sky”, stirs, dumps and counts every baking project, and has even stirred on the stove. He is the family friday night pizza man, lazagna-layerer, grocery store helper, Mama’s perennial sous chef.

He absolutely loves it, cries when we’re done and takes a ridiculous amount of pride in telling his Dad “Me made it!”

More and more I’m realizing this isn’t necessarily the norm.

I’ve been a mum long enough now to start getting to know other mums and to be developing what I sense will be a deep-seated, life-long sense of self-doubt about my parent skills and style. Lots of my friends don’t allow their kids in the kitchen, feed them a different menu than the rest of the family at a different time and place than the adults. They aren’t allowed to use real cutlery, plates or glasses.

Their children eat dinner quietly at the table by themselves.

They must look at our messy, sometimes chaotic dinner time and think I’m crazy.

E eats what we eat, and has done from day one. This has met with lots of gasps and tisks but it’s worked for me. The same people who gasp and tisk are equally surprised when E sits down and devours a plate of fish, asks for second helpings of broccoli or happily gnaws away on a turkey leg.

It’s not perfect.

He claws at his tongue and cries TOO SPICY when I make spicy curry, and his appetite ebbs and flows with growth spurts and new teeth. Learning motor skills means the floor beneath his chair has to be swept and scrubbed after every meal.

But E is learning to how to be part of a conversation, how to take his turn telling “stories” about his day, how to share, how to enjoy new experiences, the names of various fruits and veggies, how to use a knife and fork, how to use his manners, how to take pride in doing something for others.

He also has three opportunities a day to be with his parents and be a sponge, for better or for worse. This morning reminded me that what we say isn’t as important as what we do everyday.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

7 thoughts on “scoop and nuke : a lesson from wee ones in the kitchen

  1. solarbeez

    My wife raised our kids to love cooking. They ‘helped out’ as soon as they could stand on a chair. They’d get flour all over themselves and the floor as they made things like pocket bread and Portuguese donuts. As adult children they love to cook. When they visit us they contribute to a home-cooked meal. It’s great that your son loves to help out…I’m sure you’ll reap the rewards for many years.

  2. the food fighters

    Beautiful. I, too have lots of friends like yours and they’re great parents. But their kids eat like crap. I often envy their discipline savvy and their patience, but I’m happy my kids eat beets and know the names of twenty cheeses. Yes, much of our parenting sucks, but dinner time is our shining moment most nights (sometimes it’s just the brad pitt topping on a brad pitt day). But your post reminds me that I’ve seriously slacked off on letting the kids cook dinner/make lunches. Yesterday, I yelled at them, “Get out of here–all of you–just get out and let me cook dinner.” Oops.
    Your house sounds fun! You, my friend, are a great mom. You want a few more boys–3, 6, 9?

  3. Growing Up in the Garden

    So funny, lately I too have found myself saying, “Everybody out of the kitchen!” But, I too love to cook with my oldest (and hopefully my youngest soon). She enjoys peeling carrots, whipping up pancake batter, and of course anything that involves licking a yummy tasting spoon when it is all said and done. Even as my daughter’s tastes have dwindled and she turns her nose up at much more than she used to, she still asks for seconds and thirds of kale, eats her asparagus with gusto, and eats fruit throughout the day. I certainly have my faults as a parent, but on the food front I think we are doing okay. Time to invite the kids back into the kitchen ;).

  4. MsD/

    This post really resonated with me. My girls — now 30 and 33 and married and both artists — grew up cooking, gardening, reading and playing with me and the other adults around at any given time. (They also learned to sit politely and quietly when needed.) I could take them anywhere, anytime without worry. They have vibrant lives of their own now, filled with good cooking, fabulous creative friends and a sense of connectedness to the earth and to the generations before them. They and their hubs are all foodies and fabulous cooks. As a teacher I see many of the children described in your post and trust me, creativity starts in the kitchen! Carry on, and I look forward to following your blog.

  5. FelineGirl

    You sound like a FABULOUS mom. What you are doing is EXACTLY correct. As a mom myself of three, my better half and I have always included our children in meal prep and eating. Family time is SO important, and what you do with your child(ren) now, will build a wonderful foundation for a beautiful friendship – I know…I don’t know many other moms who can say their teenage son helps in the kitchen and asks how HER day went…or have a teenage daughter who willingly shares her thoughts, fears, and dreams!
    My mom always told me to listen to others’ advice, then follow your instincts. It sounds like you’ve got this down pat. ;0)

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      That’s so kind of you to say. I find most of my mommy friends are losing their confidence to make parenting decisions without a lot of interference from so-called experts, and by experts I don’t mean their mums or grandmas. My approach to food and my son has gotten a lot of “nose-wrinkles” from friends and family, but so far, so good. It’s always good to hear from other mums who have already made their way through this confusing stage!


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