Our recipes focus on a main ingredient or task and then suggest a cooking process that works for small, uncoordinated hands. Most “recipes” are more akin to inspiration – simple enough that you can read through them once and start cooking.
I don’t believe in strict recipes for kids. People stop using their brain when they rely on someone else’s. Smell the food, decide what would go well with it. Are the strawberries very sweet? Maybe they don’t need as much sugar this time. What do we have leftover in the fridge? A slice of bacon from breakfast would be a great add to the soup. These are the things a cook thinks about. And I want my boys to learn the habit.
Also, no one puts a three year old in front of the Mona Lisa and says, “Make that.” First, a foregone conclusion is boring. And second, it’s frustrating to fall short of a gorgeous ideal on the page.
At the same time, I don’t think recipes are the best way to teach how to follow instructions. Communication and safety in the kitchen takes care of it. “Stand behind the oven line when I put the cookies in.” Cooking – even without a recipe – teaches sequencing. Just as I learned that it doesn’t matter whether I wash or cut salad leaves first, they will discover the disappointment of dressing a salad in advance.
For us, cooking is about appreciating food, understanding its qualities, it’s affinities, and exploring all the possibilities. It’s a way to discover the world and express a primal sort of creativity. On this site, if a recipe requires exact measuring, I mention it. Otherwise, you can wing it. An extra egg, a little more sugar, no Cumin,â€¦ it’s not a problem. The main reason I do this is that cooking day after day with small children requires – at its best -a combination of adopting their ideas and guiding them towards a general goal. It isn’t a formula. The end result doesn’t actually matter that much. We don’t worry about it.
There are also failures and false starts, which I keep to myself.