My family doesn’t watch a lot of TV, but I admit that in the cold, wintry months, a couple hours of viewing is part of the day. However, cartoons are limited. Rather, I like shows that invite an element of interaction.
Tonight, we’re watching the ultimate challenge in the culinary arts – “Iron Chef” on The Food Network. Soon, my four- and five-year-old daughters are disappearing into the kitchen, the older one giving me strict instructions not to follow, that the “chefs” are making me a dish to judge. After a few minutes, a paper plate donning a peanut butter-and-honey sandwich on wheat bread is slid into my lap, and I thank my little chefs. They wait. The honey pools on the plate. There’s so much honey that I can’t discern the peanut butter. I take a bite, smile, and announce that they are indeed the Iron Chefs. “Thank you, Judge,” they giggle, as they race into the kitchen for the next “course.”
There was a lot of honey in that meal. My blood sugar is now crashing. But a well-balanced meal wasn’t the point.
The choice of the TV show wasn’t accidental. My husband and I let our children help as much as they want in the kitchen, with the exception of using sharp knives, the stove, and the oven. They’ve been cracking eggs, scrubbing vegetables, measuring ingredients, and mixing since they were two years old. As they got older, we introduced the cheese shredder, butter knives, and the salt and pepper shakers and other spice containers. So, the interest was already there.
While we were watching the show, I commented about the ingredients, “Look, how big that fish is!” “I wonder what that ingredient is?” “Hmm, that’s an interesting combination.” I got them talking about cooking, and they followed the inspiration of their own accord to the kitchen.
They’re allowed to make certain food items on their own, one being the straight peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. They wanted to deviate. My four-year-old smiled at me from the doorway to the kitchen with the bottle of chocolate syrup, and I gave a nod to go ahead. I saw her head off to the fridge and wondered what kind of sandwich this would be. I half-expected peanut butter-and-soy sauce sandwiches, perhaps drizzled with chocolate syrup. Doesn’t sound very tasty, but it does scream creativity.
I love honey, so even though it was dripping the sticky, golden stuff and even though I was craving some broccoli to balance out the sweetness afterwards, I didn’t have to fake my smile of approval. But even if I had been served soy sauce on a bun, I would’ve smiled. I highly value honesty and authenticity, but I have learned that with children, you often have to soften your response. What I wanted was to give them a sense of empowerment and encouragement to take the initiative and think outside the box the next time they feel inspired.
They live to make me happy. It’s a fact of child development: All children just want to do what is going to bring them emotionally closer to their parent. A harsh, or even just an absent-minded, comment can crush a child’s spirit. If I had said that there was too much honey on the sandwich, it would’ve sent the wrong message: They would’ve taken that comment as criticism – that their sandwich wasn’t good enough. I might never had gotten to eat another of their original sandwiches again, or at least not with the same amount of heart as what they poured into this one. I want them to live their lives feeling not just good enough but as amazing people. So even if I’m fed carrot stick-and-mustard sandwiches, and my tongue is curling from the mismatched flavors, I’m going to smile and say “Good job, my little chefs.”
Article by Rita Brhel
Rita Brhel is a stay-at-home mother to three children. She is also a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor for the Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska, the Publications Coordinator for Attachment Parenting International, the managing editor of the Attached Family magazine, an API Support Group Leader, PSI Postpartum Support Coordinator, Sidelines High-Risk Pregnancy Peer Counselor.
Rita has written 41 awesome articles for Natural Family Today.