When I think about cooking with kids, my mind immediately goes towards potential safety hazards, and I think that most parents everywhere would agree. I think about babysitting and volunteering with young children, constantly telling them to hover their hands over a pan handle to see if it is hot, never to wear long sleeves close to an open flame, and to triple check that the stove and oven are off.
Safety hazards aside, the phrase “cooking with kids” also brings up some of my most cherished childhood memories I have with my mom and grandparents. I received my favorite recipe for “Monster Cookies” and for apple pie from my preschool teacher when I was 4 years old and have made them for every holiday since with my mom. We would make them together while she taught me how to properly peel apples without cutting my fingers, what ingredients we had to wash, and how we could give what we made to others and share our products with. During these times we were baking, I would also listen to my mom about nutrition and healthy eating. She taught me that being healthy does not mean restricting myself, but it is about finding a balance that is right for me. I learned that cooking and the control I had over what I ate did not have to match anybody else, it could be entirely unique.
This was my introduction to having leadership in the kitchen and was probably one of my first times being able to take charge in an “adult” role. My mom’s encouragement towards me taking charge and not being able to make mistakes definitely contributed to who I am today; she prioritized me not fearing failure, and not being afraid to try. I learned that it is okay to spill sometimes because we could always clean it up and begin again.
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My mom’s lessons were not the sole things I learned from this agency in the kitchen because once we finished our baking, we would share our creations with our family and friends, specifically my grandparents. We would drive over to their house and then I would sit as they tried our pies and cookies, telling me stories of when they were younger. I would hear about their time in Ireland, their boat rides over to New York, and how they first had jobs in America. I loved hearing about my family’s history because it made me feel connected to people I had met once or did not know; I was able to hear about who in my family impacted my life and why I am where I am today.
My story of learning how to cook safely and hearing about my family’s history mirrors the story of Vanessa Garcia as a child in What the Bread Says. Like me, she was able to learn to cook as a child, but with her grandfather Papan, not her mother. She was able to hear about her own family’s history, their culture, and how it impacts her current life and how it will impact her future. She was able to learn about how her family traveled from place to place, eventually resulting in her own life which is full of love from her family. Her story reflects stories from my childhood and millions of other children’s upbringings. Some of our fondest memories come from being in the kitchen as a child and some of our most valuable lessons originated here which is why I now view cooking with kids as a foundational part of my past, present and future, and not just a potential safety hazard.
Lily Dokhanchi is studying English with a minor in Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is an intern at Cardinal Rule Press and enjoys writing and editing while working in ways that can impact children. In the future, she hopes to become an English professor and work with kids to write about and depict their experiences.