My nine-year-old daughter recently started fixing dinner for the family one night each week. It is an activity I have nicknamed the Dirty-Every-Dish-in-the-Kitchen challenge, and it is fraught with danger. The tips of her hair fall to the exact height of the burners, she needs constant reminders to wash her hands after handling meat, and she holds a knife like the heroine of a Lifetime movie who is seconds from stabbing her abusive husband in self-defense.
The inconveniences and annoyances of having a pediatric chef prepare your dinner are somehow just as foreboding as the health and safety risks. She constantly loses her place in the recipe. She pours/measures/stirs/scoops too vigorously. Her hands are too small to use the can opener properly, her arms too short to reach the timer on the microwave. Everything is slow. Everything is messy. Learning something significant always is.
Knowing how to cook a meal independently is an important life skill. It fosters problem-solving skills, organizational skills, and even a bit of math. Planning a meal with your child is a good way to teach them about the building blocks of nutrition, and in my experience, kids are more adventurous about trying new fruits and vegetables if they had a hand in preparing them. Yes, it is kind of a dangerous and gross activity. Such is life.
I conclude the Dirty-Every-Dish-in-the-Kitchen challenge in much the same way each week. I sit down to supper and I watch my daughter. The soles of my feet are caked with spices and my kitchen looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. I have a meal before me that I probably would not have chosen, a meal I could have prepared in half the time had I not been relegated to sous chef, and I watch my daughter.
She nervously surveys each plate. Each diner. She sheepishly offers little disclaimers, reveals some of her secrets, and makes suggestions on how we can best-enjoy our meal.
“I used some of the Greek seasoning in the salad dressing.”
“If you have a bite of tomato mixed in with the noodles you wont have to taste it so much.”
When she sees everyone eating, everyone enjoying the dinner, even her little brother (who is too young and inconsiderate to feign pleasure with a meal for the sake of being polite), she smiles. I smile. And I dust the cumin off my feet, pull the band-aid out of my casserole, and hope there are lots more dinners in the future just like this one.