Last weekend, Kiddo #2 helped me make dinner. She was helpful and engaged. She stirred the sauce, poured and mixed ingredients and pressed up right.next.to.me. while I chopped and diced. I did my best to breathe deeply, let her have fun and not micro manage her when she sploshed sauce over the side of the sauce pan. She did great, and I twitched a lot, forced myself to refrain from making snappy comments and just let her be a part of my kitchen.
I am trying to cultivate more patience with my kids when they help me cook. I wish I didn’t care when floors and clothes got wet, or dirty or covered in paint or tomato sauce, but the wiring in my brain that gives me the patience to be crafty and focused with children is faulty. I have a tendency to short circuit and get bossy easily and say things like, “give me that,” and “let me do it.” I like my cupcakes to look pretty instead of smooshed, I hate picking up bits of paper and glitter off the floor, and I don’t like cleaning paint or glue off my or my kids’ fingers. I avoid most art projects that involve moisture and colors that stain and schedule activities that don’t involve scrubbing hands and faces afterward.
My aversion to messes doesn’t spill over into other areas of the house. I don’t seem to have a problem with piles of papers or clothes. I am not even all that bothered by clutter although I am definitely neater now that we have kids. But I can’t seem to handle wet gloppy kid messes. Even as a kid I didn’t like getting my hands sticky, though I did love to play with flour. I love how soft and cool flour feels while sifting through my fingers–until it turns into a wet gummy paste and then flour is quickly added to the icky list.
I want to let the kids slop on the frosting when decorating cupcakes and not feel my body tense up when they accidentally dump glittery sprinkles onto the floor. My kids have aprons they can wear, and I have a powerful vacuum and a Costco supply of sponges. We spend a lot of time in our kitchen, so I need to be able to teach my kids to cook while refraining from snatching items from their hands when they threaten to pour the entire contents into a dish. How bad could three extra tablespoons of oregano be in a pasta sauce? Apparently, we won’t be finding out because no matter how hard I try to contain my mild obsessive compulsive perfectionist tendencies, I end up hovering over my children, futzing and clucking while I attempt to keep spills to a minimum.
Scott has much more patience with the kids in the kitchen than I. I could leave the impromptu kiddo kitchen classes to him, but that just feels like I am giving up on my kids and myself. I don’t want to miss out on helping them grow up around the chopping block and stove. It would be easier to shoo my kids out of the kitchen and cook by myself instead of slowing down and taking the time to teach them how to chop vegetables and create meals. With limited time to wedge chores, fun, classes, homework, baths, sports and dinner into an already packed evening or weekend, I find it hard to slow my brain down to the speed of my five-year-old. I like to be quick, precise, efficient and focused when attempting to get a meal on the table in under 30 minutes. That said, it isn’t fair of me to deny them the opportunity to experience cooking and make mistakes in the kitchen.
Despite my desire to cook by myself last weekend, I worked really hard at maintaining patience so Kiddo #2 could enjoy herself and feel welcomed. I had to quietly tell myself to slow down a few times, which definitely helped me keep focused on her experience and remain calm. I had to remind myself that a spill can be wiped up easily and hands are super easy to rinse off. And even a less than tasty meal is only a minor inconvenience. I am trying to keep my kids’ kitchen failures in perspective. I expect as my kids grow older and maintain better control of their hands and are less likely to push half of dinner out of the pan and onto the stove, I will feel more comfortable cooking with them. In the meantime, I plan to keep inviting them into the kitchen no matter how much my body involuntarily lunges forward to prevent potential mistakes. I will cut myself a break though, and let them do the gloppy art projects at school.
Below is my stuffed shells recipe. The vegan ricotta involves smooshing your hands into the tofu to get it the right consistency. It’s a great recipe for kids to help make– and a task I much prefer to let them handle.
-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
-Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Once the water starts boiling, add in an entire box of jumbo pasta shells.
-While you are waiting for the water to boil and shells to cook, begin making the tomato sauce and tofu ricotta.
Tomato sauce ingredients:
2 large cans of crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon of olive oil
5-6 cloves of minced garlic
1 tablespoon of oregano
1 tablespoon of dried basil or a small handful of fresh leaves that your kiddo harvested from your garden
6-7 good cranks of the pepper grinder
Salt to taste
Armed with her trusty pair of kid-friendly craft scissors…
…there was no reason she couldn’t tame the bolting basil herself.
-Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan
-Add the garlic
-Saute until the garlic has turned golden
-Add the two cans of tomatoes to the garlic (give the can opener to your kid and see if he/she can open it on their own) and the rest of the ingredients and simmer on low
While the sauce is simmering, start making the tofu ricotta. This can also be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge.
She started off thinking it would be fun to stick her hands into a bowl of squishy tofu.
But her face quickly proved that she loves sticky, messy fingers about as much as I do.
Tofu ricotta ingredients:
1 block of firm tofu, mashed by little hands if you have an extra pair living in the house
½ to ⅔ cups of Veganaise
2 tablespoons dried or fresh dill
2 teaspoons fresh basil (leftover from the earlier harvest)
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
½ teaspoon pepper
salt to taste
-Mash the tofu into a large bowl until it is a crumbly and mushy
-Add all the ricotta ingredients and stir well until it begins to resemble the consistency of ricotta
-Adjust seasonings to taste
-Once everything is ready, take a large casserole dish and scoop a few heaping spoonfuls of sauce into the bottom and spread evenly.
-Take a large soup spoon and stuff each shell full of the tofu ricotta.
-When you have snuggly filled the casserole dish with stuffed shells, cover the shells with the remaining tomato sauce.
-Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling up on the sides and the filling is heated through.
-Serve with homemade garlic bread and a huge tossed salad.