The Jew And The Carrot

Teaching the Next Generation To Cook

By Rachel Kahn-Troster

  • Print
  • Share Share

My 3-year-old daughter clambers into the car at the end of a long day, asks me what’s for dinner. When I tell her turkey burgers, her voice gets hopeful. “We cook it?” No, I made it the night before. But, she reminds me that we bought the ingredients together in the store. As I begin to worry about a child-sized guilt trip, she is happily chatting away about something else.

Liora loves to be in the kitchen with me. No matter how beloved the play date, if she sees me head for the cutting board, she is dragging her stool next to me to be able to watch what is being chopped on the counter. She mixes scrambled eggs, rolls out (and mushes) cookie dough, and gets her hands sticky with ricotta gnocchi. One of her favorite bedtime stories is a book from PJ Library about baking challah, “It’s Challah Time”; and I am trying to muster the courage to actually try out the cupcake decorating set she got for Hanukkah.

With my big girl as my sous chef, I often reflect on the passage in the Talmud that outlines the responsibilities of parents to their children: teaching them Torah, providing them with a trade and getting them married (some also say: teaching them to swim). To my ear, this sounds like parents are required to provide their kids with the skills to live productive, independent lives, and so teaching my kids to cook falls naturally for me into this mitzvah. I don’t need to raise a gourmet cook, but I think basic life skills include knowing how to scramble an egg and make tomato sauce from scratch. So much of Jewish traditio,n particularly among women, has been passed down through cooking and eating together. What happens in the kitchen is an ongoing collective memory, and it is my responsibility to adapt and pass that along as much as I pass along the importance of Shabbat or tzedakah.

With childhood obesity rates rising, how and what kids eat is heavily scrutinized. We are told that kids are more likely to eat food that they have helped buy and prepare themselves, but I know from personal experience (and my kids are not picky eaters) that there is not always a straight line between helping cook something and actually eating it. Given how competitive contemporary parenting can be, I worry that saying that I cook with Liora will be seen as bragging about raising a precocious sustainable Jewish foodie, rather than a simple description of what my daughter and I do during our time together. My kid cooks for the same reason other kids watch football or play dress up: to imitate and spend time with their parents. There is no agenda here, just life in motion.

But isn’t the kitchen dangerous? A friend of mine with a child Liora’s age recently asked me how I taught her not to touch the pan, given how well 3 year olds follow instructions. While I have reminded her many times that the stove and the oven are hot, and that not following Mummy’s instructions means no cooking, what has convinced her not to touch the pan is having accidentally touched it. Not enough to hurt herself, but enough to now be the one warning me “Stand back, very hot, no touch it.”

Cooking with your kids requires letting go, and trust. After all, they can’t learn to swim if you never let them out of your arms.

Teaching the next generation to cook has to be part of a Jewish food mindfulness and an essential part of independence, not a niche skill for those who have the time. It is not enough that the ingredients be sustainable but that we nurture the understanding of how that food got into our mouths, not just the farmers who grow the food but the people who prepare it. If our kids cook with us, we ensure that they know that not all food comes from a package at the store, and that they can be part of the creative process of food. Indeed, they will see that food is creative, an art form like painting or music. By cooking with their parents, they will learn family stories and write new ones. It becomes part of their personal Torah, the heritage they leave to the next generation.

Cookbook Recommendations for Kids:

• Mollie Katzen, of Moosewood fame, has written two cookbooks for younger kids that simple have illustrated instructions alongside the recipe. All of her recipes are vegetarian, though not vegan: “Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes,” and “Salad People and More Real Recipes,” by Molly Katzen

• There are several Sesame Street cookbooks but this one goes beyond cookies and other snack food: “‘C’ is for Cooking,” by Susan McQuillan and the Sesame Workshop

• Another good kids cookbook: “Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen,” by Susie Fishbein

• This is not a kids’ cookbook, but it inspired me to first take up knife and skillet when I was in high school, and older kids will find it funny: “In the Kitchen with Miss Piggy,” by Moi

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster is Director of Education and Outreach for Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. She serves on the board of Hazon.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Kids, Cook

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.