Recently I had the opportunity to learn from a child’s experience with food. I had the opportunity to babysit for a couple of children, ages 10 and 8, for a week. On one of those days, the 10-year-old girl wanted to make breakfast for me (my husband had to go to work earlier, so unfortunately he missed the breakfast :(. She had the menu all planned: scrambled eggs with toast and bacon, and some apple juice to drink with it.
She was excited to be able to share what she knew about breakfast, about cooking, and about memories. The foods were simple: eggs, milk, cheese, bacon (on a lonely plate by itself :), and toast with butter and jam. She claims to not like “mixed foods”, so we made sure we did not “mix” foods during the meal. The child explained how well her grandmother taught her how to cook breakfast, and demonstrated those skills as we prepared the meal. She asked me questions in preparation for the meal such as, “How do you like your eggs (scrambled, fried, over easy, poached)? How do you like bacon cooked (crispy or soft)? How do you like your toast (dark or light)? Do you want butter and jam on your toast? (Yes!)”
She excitedly retrieved the ingredients, pans, and utensils from counters, cabinets, drawers, and the refrigerator. I also asked her a lot of questions throughout the cooking process. Squeals of enthusiasm were heard as she cracked the eggs and scrambled them up. We added what we thought was the “right” amount of cheese on our eggs, only to add more later.
Why was this a positive food experience? There were several reasons. People played a big role in the experience.
Although the food was simple, being able to make breakfast for someone else, to be able to share in those memories, to share in the preparation process, is a big factor in the food experience.
She was not just making a quick breakfast alone in preparation for school or anything else. Instead, she wanted to share with me what she had learned from her grandmother. She wanted to share the great taste of the breakfast made with simple ingredients, but containing powerful memories and experiences.
We made breakfast at home on a day that she did not have school. We were able to relax and concentrate on the meal rather than having to rush in order to get to an activity after the meal.
Although her knowledge base was limited, she drew from those skills that her grandmother had taught her.
As she drew from those skills (how to cook eggs, how to blend ingredients, how to work the toaster, etc.), other comments and information arose from that learning. The child remarked how her grandmother liked making her own jam (as we spread some on our toast). She commented that the cheese we used (regular shredded mild cheddar cheese) was her favorite, and that she loved to sprinkle it on food. She talked about how her grandmother cooks bacon in the microwave. Interaction with the food was also significant as we got creative with the meal. She beat the eggs with a butter knife (which she proved can be done :).
So what can we learn from the breakfast experience of a 10-year-old girl?
We can learn to harness the power of memories. In this case, her memories spanned the past, present, and future. The child drew on her experiences of making breakfast with her grandmother. She knew what ingredients to use and how to prepare the meal. She was also able to teach me how to do that as she related the information from her knowledge base. At the same time, she created new memories through this experience with me. She built on the information of not only how to prepare the dish, but the people who were involved in the meal preparation. The experience of eating together a creation that we made ourselves generates a sense of accomplishment.
Learning different techniques from different people. Her grandmother has certain ways of cooking that she was able to share with her granddaughter. Her grandmother likely learned those cooking skills from her mother as well as other individuals and sources. The 10-year-old girl and I had different ways of cooking the meal. She also read some information from a recipe book for simple items such as how to prepare eggs. All of those things helped to build her knowledge base. She built upon her knowledge base and skill sets of how to prepare different items. Increasing your culinary knowledge base also helps you to become self-sufficient. You can then prepare things without having to rely on a restaurant or some other type of prepared meal.
This experience also helped to build her self-confidence. Not only was she able to draw from her knowledge of the past with her experiences with her grandmother, but she was able to demonstrate those skills and prove, if you will, that she knew her stuff – she knew how to prepare those dishes. She was testing the recipe, so to speak. Having that as a base built her anticipation and motivation toward the future – to want to try cooking different things. In this case, she really enjoys looking through recipe books and trying to cook many of those recipes from time to time.
Developing her cooking skills may also help her learn in other areas and subjects. She has that encouragement that can span a variety of subjects. Since cooking is a more tactile subject, she also may be able to help conquer other topics such as the arts, math, science, and reading.
Her experiences taught me to never underestimate the power of motivation.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What food experiences have you learned from a child? In what ways have those experiences motivated you?