You may not have considered yourself much of a cook in your life “pre-allergies,” but when your child (or other family member) is diagnosed with a life-threatening food allergy, you find yourself picking up a kitchen habit. While you’re honing your chopping skills and toning up your piping technique, cupcake by cupcake, invite your kids to the counter and have them help out.
Lay the Foundation
Whether your child’s allergies are lifelong or not, being competent in the kitchen is a life skill worth developing. If he grows to be a food-allergic adult (and there’s no way to predict if he will or won’t outgrow the allergies he’s been diagnosed with as a kid), the same pre-packaged food choices he’s limited to today will be food choices he’s limited to tomorrow. Knowing how to prepare his favorite meals from scratch (with or without adaptations) and having enough comfort in the kitchen to courageously try new recipes will serve him well.
Plus, it’s Quality Family Time
Sitting down for a family-friendly film or breaking out the board games are great ways to spend time together as a family, especially when you’re navigating pandemic-related restrictions on public activities. Do you know what else is a great hands-on, family activity? Cooking. Sit down together to brainstorm a list of recipes you all want to test drive. Figure out the potential adaptations you might make to ensure the item is safe for all of you. Make your shopping list or hunt through the pantry to make sure you’ve got what you need, and then roll-up your sleeves to get cooking. You may spend more time enjoying each other’s company as you work (and eventually eat together!) than any game of Monopoly has ever lasted.
Chef & Sous Chef
To recap, you’ve got two goals here: Equip your child with a life skill and spend some fantastic quality time with her. Neither of those are achieved by letting your child watch you as you bake and cook. This is one of those things where hands-on learning is a must. Send her to the sink to wash her hands, roll-up her sleeves and let her get in the middle of things. Yes, you do want to include her by giving her age-appropriate and skill appropriate responsibilities. Working with toddler? You can measure out the ingredients and let her pour each pre-measured quantity into the bowl.
Is your school-aged cook ready for a little more responsibility? Go for it! Pick up some kid-friendly cooking tools and trust her to put the skills she’s been developing into motion. Bonus tip: Cooking is also a great tool to hone math skills and to introduce chemistry concepts. From counting to multiplying fractions to talking about why we use baking powder instead of baking soda, you’ve got an opportunity to work in more learning than you realize! So, go ahead and make twice as many wheat-free scones! You’ll get to say, “This recipe calls for 1 ¾ cups of coconut flour. If I want to double the recipe, how much will I need to use?”
Be Prepared to Fail
Learning to cook – together or on your own – is like learning anything else. Sometimes it’s not going to be as scrumptious as you expected when you picked the recipe. Sometimes that recipe that sounded amazing on paper is anything but yummy on your plate. That’s not only okay, it’s also another important lesson for your child (and you!). We don’t need to aim for gourmet every time out. Sometimes we’re going to overcook the chicken and it’ll be too dry. Sometimes we’ll drop an allergy-friendly donut into the oil before the oil is hot enough and the donut will be a bit too greasy as a result. Sometimes we’ll discover that we just really don’t like a particular ingredient or dish after all. That’s part of the process. It’s learning and it’s being willing to take the risk that it won’t be something we enjoy. We learn to chalk that up to a learning experience and we move on.
So, what are you going to make tonight? Need some suggestions? You’ll find a variety of recipes to try in my blog. Start here, click on the magnifying glass at the top right of the page and search for “Recipes.”