Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mastering the Art of...Family Cooking!

In my last post I wrote about the positive outcomes for kids that cook. There are so many, but hopefully I was able to touch on some of the most valuable. Today is the day I am going to write about something that means very much to me. In fact, few things make me willing to get up on the proverbial soapbox like this issue of families cooking together.  

At the present time there is much focus in the produce industry on ways to get kids, and of course their parents, to choose fresh produce as meal and snack options. And lately the government’s resistance to requiring schools to offer fruits and vegetables is receiving well deserved scrutiny and perhaps inadequate scorn. Somewhere I read that one of the arguments against serving produce was that kids could ‘gobble up’ a hamburger in no time but produce takes a lot longer. So, is that a convenience or time problem?

Hmmmm...My kids can mow through a huge portion of roasted cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts in about a third of the time they get their hamburger down. But maybe it takes them longer because our burgers are piled with mushrooms, onions, avocado, lettuce and maybe a heirloom tomato from the garden. I’ve even forgotten to put the meat on mine!

These conversations about school nutrition are critical and necessary. We definitely need to keep the pressure on the people who have the responsibility and influence to make the right decisions on these issues. But another significant aspect of the discussion on health seems to be somewhat absent in many of these discussions.  

A truly healthy person is not just one who is consuming nutritious foods and implementing exercise into their routine. My experience with kids has taught me that the kids who thrive in many areas of their lives are the ones who not only eat nutritious foods and have opportunities to participate in physical sports, but also are children who enjoy solid nurturing relationships with their families, particularly their parents. I am not just talking about getting families to try to eat healthier. I believe that there needs to be a more specific discussion directed to parents and caregivers that helps them see and ultimately desire the direct rewards that come from cooking produce together.

In fact, (and now I feel like I am officially ‘out on a limb’) I would state that cooking, and all the parts of this exercise, presents a natural avenue and one of most effective means to create opportunities for necessary and longed for connections in families. From both the kids’ and parents’ points of view, families want meaningful relationships and all the great attributes that comprise the fabric of these relationships.

Watching Eliana play and interact.with her parents and being able to completely relate to their family dynamic, I know that much of this came from their experiences around preparing food.  There are so many benefits and good results that flow from working together on culinary projects, but at the very basic level, people are talking to each other, sharing ideas, giving and taking opinions, all the communication activities that so many families crave and need today.  

I am sure there are some naysayers who will let themselves believe that our (the Young) family life is not normal, that most families do not share this level of connection, and that this could never be their own families’ experience. First, true, we are NOT normal. Eliana’s mom and I had a good laugh about this very thing. What is ‘normal’ anyway? I’m not even sure I want to be normal. Second, and also true, many families don’t share the same opportunities that we do, but that is about choice, our choice.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not easy, it can be very time consuming, and it is not all ‘fun and games.’ The day Marc made his Beef Bourguignon I was working in my vegetable garden. I thought I was going to go nuts when he asked me his 500th question. I never have been so sorry about my decision to buy him a book. I never wanted to hear the name Julia Childs again! But, today, he makes very good dishes, AND the best part, we have a very special memory that we share. It was worth every hair pulling moment.

Honestly, there have been tears, angry words, hurt feelings (mine and theirs). You know, all the things that no one wants in their relationships with their kids. But, we talk, we plan, we shop, we compromise, sometimes we discipline (Are you kidding? Teenage boys with kitchen utensils?  Scary…) But the best thing we share is wonderful memories. What honest and normal (there is that vague word again) parent does not want this?

I do not have more time, talent, money or patience or any other resource than many parents.  And yes, I do have kid/family experiences that goes beyond my family of six. I taught school for 13 years, I have lots of family and friends that have kids. And in my 16 years at Pam Young & Company, Inc. many of the business relationships I have come to enjoy involve families with kids. Many of the conversations I have had with these people have directly involved a desire for deeper more meaningful relationships with their kids.   

Trade shows are not on the top of my ‘favorite things to do’ list. But I have to say, sharing time with Kid Chef Eliana inspired me, once again, to not only make as many opportunities as possible with my kids to make interesting things with fresh produce, but also, to encourage as many families as I can to do the same.  

If just one family makes an effort to start cooking fruits and vegetables together I will be very happy. Hopefully it’s yours! Bon Apetít!

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