With the summer holidays looming, you’re forgiven for being tempted to hide under the kitchen table for the duration. Because after any particularly hectic weekend, that’s exactly what I feel like doing. Not only do school holidays mean spending about four times the amount of money on food that you usually would, but they’re also about providing a constant stream of entertaining ideas and activities. I don’t think I’m being too harsh when I say that it is the most knackering time of the year by far.
So where does food come into all of this, apart from leaving a massive dent in your bank balance? Well, even though I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to cooking, I need to leave these tendencies at the door during the holidays. Because this is the time to invite your kids into the kitchen and let all hell break loose. And, more importantly, be completely ok with this. I know I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion previously the benefits of teaching your kids where their food comes from by trying to grow the odd tomato of two in the back garden or on the window sill, for example. But now you’ve got a bit more ‘quality’ parenting time on your hands, how about putting them to work on their dinner? I’m not talking giving them free reign of the knife draw, but more letting them help you out with a few simple meal ideas. Safety first, of course etc etc…
Depending on the age of your kids, this could take many forms. Mine aren’t quite at the ‘letting them near appliances unsupervised’ stage, but they can certainly manage a stir with a wooden spoon or picking out their own ingredients. One of the easiest places to start them on the road to home cooking is with pizzas. You might want to go all out and make you own dough, as this in itself is a fun way to amuse the young, but if you want the slightly easier and less time-consuming option, just buy some flat breads and ask them what they want to top theirs with – and then let them. You might end up with a few odd flavour combinations, but you’re not going to be the one eating it.
Baking is another great use of an afternoon. Start them off with some easy cupcakes and get them measuring out quantities and mixing. And the oh-so-important icing, of course. I know this sounds like fairly obvious stuff, but I always find myself trying to take over. I have to keep reminding myself that it doesn’t matter if there’s a stray bit of egg shell in the mix, or that one cupcake is about twice the size of the rest. Or that my kitchen floor is covered in icing sugar – because that’s not the point of the exercise. The whole idea is that they are the ones in control (or they think they are). And you get through another holiday afternoon with your sanity intact, or most of it at any rate.
And another lesson they can learn from this exercise – when I was younger, I remember my mother’s mantra – ‘a good cook always cleans up after themselves.’ I now recognise this for what it was – a parent looking for a way to avoid clearing up a mountain of baking mess. But there’s no reason why I can’t pass on this family tradition to my own kids. Teach them the vital importance of clearing up their mess and then put your feet up and have a cup of tea – you’ve earned it.