In the Disney movie Ratatouille, Chef Gusteau motivates a kitchen boy and a talented rat with his assurance that “Anyone can cook!” It turns out this strategy also works great to motivate a six year old with a fear of fire and knives to gain confidence about trying new things.
We instituted “Sunday Dinners with Joshua” to cut down on restaurant outings. We originally thought it would also give us a break from cooking, which would have worked if our child wanted to cook spaghetti or grilled cheese sandwiches. It doesn’t work so well if the first thing he wants to make is ratatouille, followed by French onion soup, lasagna Bolognese, and similarly complex from-scratch offerings. Joshua was never a picky eater, so we didn’t encourage him to cook because we thought it would help him try new things. Still, I do think a child would be much more likely to get excited about eating a bowl of peppers, onions, tomatoes and squash (i.e. ratatouille) if he had picked out all the veggies himself and was in charge of preparing and cooking them.
Our first rule of Joshua dinners: anything goes. He wants to make ratatouille, which I had never made before? No problem – we looked up the recipe together. He wants French onion soup, which requires caramelizing pounds of onions by stirring them for about half an hour? Okay … but maybe we’ll start making dinner earlier. He wants to cook salmon in the dishwasher? Why not – cooking is supposed to be fun!
We told him from the start that we would help him … under one condition. He had to be the lead chef. That meant using the big kitchen cleaver to slice vegetables and working with the stove’s open flames. But because the menu was his idea in the first place he bravely tried his best. We were there to help him along with kid-safety short cuts. (The best was using our silicon hand mitts and swim goggles to cut down on the danger and watery eyes of cutting red onions.)
Joshua, now a worldly 11-year old, reflected back on his cooking adventures for this blog post. He said, “I like to cook, because it’s fun and kind of like an experiment – if you make something for the first time and you taste it and it’s good, you can make it again. Then the second time if there’s something you didn’t like about it you can add more or less of something to make it better. Also when you cook no one can make it exactly the same way you do. It’s way better than just going to the store and buying it already made.”
Here are some of Joshua’s Cooking Tips, from the chef himself, to help anyone feel more comfortable in the kitchen, not just kids:
- Watch movies about cooking, like Ratatouille, a million times
- When you go to restaurants think about what you like and you can figure out how to cook it.
- Wear goggles while cutting onions because you don’t want to be crying all over people’s food.
- Don’t be afraid of knives … just make sure you have something to protect your fingers!
- If you learn how to cook when you’re young, then when you get older you can make dinner for your parents if they have to work late, and you can impress them with some really good food!
- The best part about cooking, at least in our house – if you cook, someone else has to do the dishes!
1 1/2 large red or white onions
1 pint colorful cherry or grape tomatoes
2 bell peppers, any color
8 oz mushrooms
Many garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Cut all veggies into one inch chunks and put in large mixing bowl. (We peeled the eggplant, but you don’t have to.) Crush garlic cloves and cut each in half, and add to the bowl. Save the onion, garlic skins and other vegetable scraps in the freezer to make vegetable soup stock later.
Toss the veggies with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Crush the thyme in your hand, add to the bowl and mix again.
Spread the veggies onto two cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Roast for 15 minutes, then stir the vegetables. Roast for another 20 minutes, then stir vegetables again. Roast for a final 10 minutes or until veggies are fork-tender and smell amazing.
Serve in bowls with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.