One mom who sees it that way is Ashley Hansen, who was among parents who shared with me tales of cooking with kids.
Hansen, who owns Hansen’s Sno-Bliz snowball stand in New Orleans, admits she is a bit of a Pollyanna when it comes to cooking with her daughter Avery, 8, and son Gordon, 10.
“I always seem to go for this Mary Poppins aspect,” she said. “Let’s make this fun.”
And, snap, the job’s a game – literally.
“We have cooking contests with smoothies, small salads, grilled cheese, cookies. Everyone is encouraged to add a ‘secret ingredient,’” Hansen said, explaining that the idea for the game grew out of family members having their own ideas of how a cookie or smoothie should taste.
“So, I was like, let’s all put in our own special ingredient. They loved the idea of a secret ingredient that would not be revealed until the end.”
Hansen doesn’t leave everything to chance. Some contest ideas are born out of what she finds in her refrigerator or if she over-buys a fruit or vegetable.
“It’s important to lead them. I try to plant seeds and see who picks up what. Look, I have this Tupperware of roasted nuts. Look, I have bananas.”
The family loves crepes. Avery filled one with shredded cheddar and fresh dill. “She won that round,” Hansen said.
Gordon took home the trophy one day with his yogurt smoothie blended with rosemary and blood orange. “Avery and I looked at each other and said, ‘Gordy, this is so good.’”
A salad contest one night ended in another victory for Gordon – and for his mother. The boy made the winning combination of kale and watermelon.
“Ever since then he’s been eating all of his salads,” Hansen said. “He loves salads now.”
“It is a curiosity that kids have about how foods taste together, experimenting with things,” she said. “It’s also about making magic happen, like Harry Potter coming up with potions.”
Parents are remarkably clever sometimes. One dad told me he signed up for one of those meal-in-a-box delivery services, and now his son waits for the package like it’s a present and can’t wait to get into the kitchen to make whatever is inside.
After listening to lots of parents, I saw a few recurring themes:
Let kids do it their way. As one father told me: “For the cupcakes, she likes to split them and frost between the halves. ‘It’s less messy, Dad. The frosting doesn’t get on your fingers.’ I mean the frosting and crumbs do get everywhere to accomplish this, but the eating part? Okay, it is less messy.”
Pull out the gadgets. “My 4-year-old loves using the tools — stand mixer [cake and frosting], plastic knife [cutting boiled eggs and raw mushrooms], rolling pin [pizza dough], tongs [heating tortillas on gas stove], blender [making smoothies] and immersion blender [mayonnaise],” said one mom.
Go hands-on. Think shaping meatballs, cutting out cookies, “smashing” potatoes or rolling up wraps. “My