When my wife was in college, years before we met, Saturday mornings boys would knock on her door: “Make us a gumbo!” This was in Wyoming where gumbo was rare, and she and her roommate, also from Lafayette, were popular for their cooking. And after a night of partying, apparently gumbo was what was needed. Bleary-eyed themselves, the girls set the conditions: “Go to the store, get a chicken and some sausage, and we’ll see.”
Cooking is an important skill kids should learn. This winter there’s no better indoor activity. They’re home from school more, and it’s sometimes too cold to play outside. Eating home-cooked food is healthier for the whole family too, rather than eating take-out or processed food from a box. Of course, if the parents are lousy cooks, maybe kids should learn from another family member. My mom was an average cook, but an excellent baker, so that’s how I turned out. My wife’s mother was solid in the kitchen, and so is she. Now my son is a better cook than I, having his mom to teach him gumbos and etouffees.
Learning to cook goes hand-in-hand with learning which foods are better (fruits and vegetables, low fat, high fiber). Children are also happier, stronger, less sick, and less overweight when they eat three meals per day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some kids don’t like breakfast; their stomachs and heads aren’t awake before they go out the door to school. However, children learn better with fed brains, so get them up earlier to eat something, like at least half a banana, a small muffin and a glass of juice. Some other kids don’t like to eat at school, where many get their breakfast and lunch. These kids should take food with them- granola bars and fruits to keep them going.
We see lots of issues in the Pediatric Emergency Department due to poor diet. Constipation and gas pains result from low-fiber foods. Not eating three meals daily contributes to headaches, fatigue, and depression. Snack-filled diets cause obesity, leading to leg and back pain, among other problems. Gumbo to the rescue?
On the TV show Chopped, four chefs compete to make gourmet meals from “Mystery Baskets,” with time limits to cook each course. The baskets contain regular ingredients like fish or lamb, but also whacky items like gummy worms. It’s fun watching the chefs try to make tasty food as time ticks down. Then they stand there as judges critique their dishes and decide who gets “chopped.” Pressure really ratchets up when a chef slices himself with a knife, and precious seconds waste away while his wound is dressed.
Kitchens can be dangerous places for kids. There’s knives and whirring blades in blenders, pots and microwaves full of boiling liquids, and lots of traffic to bump children into these hazards. On Chopped chefs call “behind you” to each other as they pass, lest they collide and get burned. Few teens yell “behind you” when going to the fridge while parents are dicing vegetables.
However, like we discussed above, it’s important for children to be there, where they learn the life-long skill of cooking and families hash out the day’s events, and other important life issues. Besides learning how to feed themselves in a healthy way, kids also need to be safe when kitchens get frantic like on Chopped.
The most common kitchen injury we see in the Pediatric Emergency Department is burns from microwaved liquids. Those big, clumsy microwave doors are targets for passers-by, bumping the child who’s retrieving a bowl of hot noodles, scalding her in the face, chest, and hands. When this happens, immediately remove burning clothes and run cold water on to stop the burning process. Better still, closely watch kids when they use microwaves.
Knives injuries are second. Kids should learn how to use them, but with supervision, ensuring they cut away from themselves. It seems obvious to not hold the object you’re cutting in your hand, putting it on a cutting board instead, but it wasn’t obvious to that kid we saw last week. A final checklist for toddlers: keep pot handles and electric cords out of reach, and lock cabinets with poisoning hazards like detergents. Kids shouldn’t get chopped in real life.