Italian cuisine is so much more than the act of consuming food, and in an Italian kitchen the preparation of each dish is considered an act of love rather than a chore. Dining “Italian style” is all about sitting down together around the table and is as much about enjoying the companionship of family and friends as it is about enjoying a delicious meal.
The kitchen has always been a place of importance for any Italian family and in the hustle and bustle of the typical busy family today, it is even more important to find ways to bring the family together for meals. One easy way to encourage the family to do this is to get the children involved in helping out in the kitchen. Children take great satisfaction in helping out, and as well as installing a healthy dose of good self esteem, in a round about way it encourages kids to try new foods that they normally may turn down.
When they are involved in preparing specific dishes, kids are much more motivated to try them out themselves. Although there are always some chores you can find for even the youngest children to help with in the kitchen such as setting the table, or stirring something together, I find that by 4 or 5 years of age children are able to actually prepare some basic dishes themselves with just a little help from Mom or Dad. There are so many Italian dishes that are quick and easy that are perfect for little hands to help with, and most children love a good plate of pasta or a slice of delicious pizza.
Our family has always been very food centric, and by sharing our love of food with our children they both learned the love of cooking as well as eating at an early age, and are now sharing that love with their children. Our two oldest grandchildren at ages 6 and 8 love to help out in the kitchen, and the younger one in particular has become quite adventurous in trying new foods. I constantly hear about young children who will only eat such foods as mac and cheese, hot dogs or frozen pizza. What a shame that these kids are not encouraged to reach out and try new flavors! We were amazed on a recent trip to Italy when Sarah wanted to try anything we were served. How many kids at 5 years of age would slurp up fresh sea urchins or oysters and actually enjoy them?
Preparing Italian food with your children is a wonderful, healthy way to encourage good eating habits as so many Italian dishes are full of goodness and fresh ingredients. Start by having your children choose the recipe with you, make out a shopping list, and then let your child become involved in the actual choosing and buying of the ingredients. When children feel they are equally involved in the planning and preparation of a dish, they will be even more excited to share the experience with you. What better way to spend quality time with your children then by preparing a delicious meal for your family to sit down and share together?
Some Benefits of Cooking With Your Kids:
Young children can see how the dishes they eat are actually prepared, and by giving them simple tasks to help out, they develop good self esteem by feeling like they are helping out.
School-age kids can learn some cooking basics such as measuring wet and dry ingredients, cracking eggs, and will get to use their math skills as they help combine ingredients for recipes. You also can use the time to discuss healthy nutrition choices and why you chose the ingredients you’re using which is a great way to slip in some important health teaching. As already stated, many children are much more likely to be amiable to trying new foods if they take part in the actual preparation. The time spent bonding together in the kitchen at this age will also lay a good foundation for later.
Older preteens and teens might appreciate the chance to improve their cooking skills to help prepare them for when they’ll need to cook for themselves. By encouraging older kids to become involved in the kitchen and sit down together to dine with the family will also install an important feeling of family togetherness. Teens also might be interested in trying different unique and different cuisines which will be an adventure for the entire family.
Italian cuisine is a perfect choice for children first learning their way around a kitchen as there are so many recipe choices for dishes that are no-fuss, requiring just a few ingredients and simple preparations. From easy, quick to put together pasta dishes, individual personal pizzas, healthy soups and stews, or simple entrees, there are an endless number of Italian recipes that are perfect for children to help prepare. It is never too late to start encouraging children to help out in the kitchen and to help them develop a healthy appreciation for great food so why not start today and see how much fun it can be for the entire family!
Deborah Mele 2011