Step by Step: When it’s my turn to make dinner, the children put on their coats

We’ve taken home an experiment in children and parents cooking, with mixed results

 

xWhen I cook, only the smoke alarm applauds. It’s enjoyable, but the hob and oven hate me, and they consistently undermine my efforts.

Thankfully – for my family – I don’t attempt to cook very often.

It is all about being prepared, and I have nothing in common with the concept.

School lunches demonstrate perfectly how the difference between healthy and unhealthy food is related to time. My wife and I are just great at making school lunches at the start of each school week. On Monday and Tuesday it’s all chicken salad lettuce cups, and baked salmon and avocado. By Wednesday we’re searching for something that doesn’t look like a chocolate bar. Thursday and Friday there are only two questions to answer: Is there mould on it? Will it fit in a lunchbox?

It can be just as difficult to maintain a healthy routine after school and work.

It’s likely the scenario is similar in many homes: it’s late in the evening; everyone has had a long day; homework is driving young and old around the bend; and everyone is cranky and hungry (those things go together). The parents are looking at each other and at the kids. With some effort, it’s possible to prepare something healthy . . . or there’s a fast-food outlet around the corner.

The word “convenience” should be much shorter. You know why.

Food cremation

Even if cooking doesn’t particularly care for me, it’s proving difficult to ignore the fact that trying to improve my health and fitness – and my family’s – requires a better understanding of how not to cremate food. Invariably, fast food comes with a side of everything that should not be in your body.

I’m not completely useless in the kitchen – I’m able to bake – but find cooking a near-impossible task. Friends and family will gladly swear to this in court, presuming they’re well enough to appear.

Going from considering toast to be cooking to, well, actually cooking is a daunting task for a novice. Involving children in the preparation process just seems well-intentioned madness.

There is no shortage of advice, though it all seems incredibly intimidating.

Cookery shows are particularly unhelpful. Unless they involve children fighting over a spoon, and spilling the contents of a mixing bowl on to the floor for an overfed dog, while the cook curses about missing key ingredients, then they are of no relevance to my life.

Last week, along with my youngest daughter Eve, I took part in “Cook Along with Ben’s Beginners”, which is a campaign to promote parents and children cooking together.

The experiment involved my five-year- old cutting up and mixing ingredients she would normally make disapproving faces at: avocados, onions, tomatoes and so on.

However, despite knowing exactly what was hidden under the wrap in the resulting burrito, she cleared her plate.

We’ve taken the experiment home, with mixed success.

We’ve certainly made a lot of mistakes: “a pinch” of something to a child can be exaggerated 100-fold. This is a problem for strong spices.

A chicken dinner one night was so undercooked it could still have crossed the road. And getting everything on the table at the same time has proved a major difficulty: the veg are often ready 10 minutes after we start, the meat an hour later, the potatoes on Wednesday.

But even if you’ve accidently added the goldfish to the pot, it’ll still taste more satisfying than anything that comes from a menu. And it will be far healthier.

We’re trying (the children are very trying), but at least we’re trying.

Damian's Stats
Age: 40
Height: 6ft
Weight: 14st 2lb (minus 2st 5lb)
BMI: 26.8 (-3.6)
Fat: 26.5% (-3.1)
Figures in brackets indicate change since March 10th, when Damian started to change his diet and exercise habits, and write this column.

November is Food Month in The Irish Times. You will find food-related content in all of our sections. We will also have reader events, competitions and lots of exclusive content at irishtimes.com/food

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