About a month ago I subscribed to TED videos, and in the bread-crumb trail of one great video leading to another, I stumbled across Jamie Oliver accepting his 2010 TED prize. Though I don’t agree with everything Oliver does at the nutritional level, I’ve been a fan of his crusade for healthy school lunches and healthy home cooking since he began it in Britain. Who can resist that kind of passion, especially when it’s directed toward children and a legacy of health?
In the video, at 11:15, there’s an eye-opening segment when he asks children to identify vegetables. “Pear?” one child guesses as he holds up an eggplant. A beet is confused for celery. Though French fries are the most often consumed “vegetable” in the United States, many children couldn’t even recognize a potato.
When I’ve watched shows like this, it’s with a little intellectual distance. The ToolMaster and I have always seen the parental role to be one of education through micro-lessons and modeling. Since we often discuss nutrition and eating choices, I’ve assumed my kids are prepared for this world. Certainly, at an intellectual level, they’re more armed than most.
But I lost any sense of complacency or smugness when Oliver makes this statement:
“…it’s profoundly important that every American child leave school knowing how to cook ten recipes that will save their lives.”
Do you know, I’m not sure I could claim that level of competence for Molly. I certainly couldn’t for Frank. Could you for your children?
When I grew up, I gleaned my food literacy largely through hands-on learning. Because my parents were frugal, valued self-sufficiency, and enjoyed being outside, by adulthood I’d done all these things:
- seeded, cultivated, and harvested a garden
- picked wild berries and processed them into jam
- canned, requiring both food and jar preparation, blanching, etc.
- learned basic food preparation, including food safety
- of necessity, because both parents worked, had a small repertoire of basic dinners
In addition, because of my own interests, I’d experimented and become competent at most kinds of baking. I’d made old-fashioned fudge using a candy thermometer, chocolate-dipped marshmallow eggs from scratch. I could make bread, donuts, and half-decent pastries by hand.
It took this video for me to understand my kids have plenty of theoretical knowledge, but because of societal, cultural, and familial changes, until now, I’ve failed them at the practical level. When they were young and most interested, I was working and in vital need of efficiency. The teaching opportunities were reserved for weekends. At some point they stopped coming into the kitchen to play, and I didn’t notice.
That’s going to change. It has to, because on top of all the obstacles to a healthy lifestyle, my kids both choose to be vegetarian. Their choices will be undermined by well-meaning but ignorant institutions, including the healthcare system.
Here’s how I’m proceeding with the reluctant child:*
1. I thought about twelve basic dinner items I want Frank to be able to cook by the time he’s eighteen. Because we’ve vegetarian, I’m basing my plans around the starch: potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.In composing our to-do list, I pre-emptively included foods he loves. Hashbrowns, anybody? Corn on the cob? Stir-fries? Perhaps no surprise, Frank voluntarily added some items I wouldn’t have thought to include.
2. I’ve broken down the cooking tasks into bite-sized lessons with chances for lots of repetition. For instance, one day I simply showed him how to use the rice cooker. The next day he got it cooking himself and washed and diced the celery, and so on.
3. To enhance buy-in, I emphasized the incremental nature of the task when I explained my goals. There won’t be any three-hour cooking marathons, unless he requests them. In 100 weeks, there are countless opportunities for 5-15 minute sessions. The trick is to remember to use them when it’s not a natural process. So…
4. To prevent another lapse into mindless parenting, I’ve programmed a weekly reminder into my Outlook tasks.
How would you rate your own kitchen competence? Have you passed it on to your kids? Are they prepared for this new world? Contrarily, have you done a bang-up job and if so, would you care to share your tips?
*Molly will be part of this process, but the issue will be meshing our schedules, not interest.
TED photo courtesy of Jamie Oliver’s site.