Top Mini Chef
March 21, 2012
Hey! Let's talk about Ezra's cooking camp, all of a sudden! Because I am literally going to explode all over the place if I don't get some of this cuteness out of my system.
(WARNING BRAGGING AHEAD WHATEVER FUCK YOU IT'S MY BLOG)
So a couple weeks ago, Ezra started a once-weekly "Mini Chefs" class at our YMCA, for three- and four-year-olds. I admit we didn't even know exactly what we were signing him up for, other than OH EM GEE CHEFS THAT ARE MINI. It was $50 for six weeks and sounded adorable. Sold! We'll just go ahead and assume it's not a Hell's Kitchen reboot for the Disney Channel, or something.
I admit I was a teensy bit disappointed at the lack of little kid-sized aprons or chef's hats, and it's a drop-off class so I haven't gotten any good photos of Ezra in full mini-cheffing action. However, 1) IT'S A DROP-OFF CLASS WHUT WHUT, and 2) holy crap, Ezra is having the time of his life there.
Every day, he begs and begs to go to cooking class. There are tears, when I must tell him that alas, not today. At pick-up, while most of the other children have wandered off to read books or play with other stuff in the classroom, Ezra is still shadowing the teacher, helping her clean up and put things away. "Where dis go? Where dis go? I helping!"
Last week they made yogurt with fresh fruit. And while Ezra really is a very good eater, yogurt has always been one of the few things he really doesn't like. Until...well, last week. He was so proud of his blackberry yogurt that he ate the whole thing.
A few nights ago, I -- on the advice of his regular preschool teacher -- handed him a "real" knife and asked him to help me with dinner. (The Montessori theory is that dull knives will simply lead to frustration with the task, and that it's best to teach children to use and respect sharp objects from the start, blah de bloop blah.) And then I stood behind him and watched that child CORRECT HIS KNIFE GRIP before carefully and meticulously chopping up some cauliflower florets.
My three-year-old has better knife skills than I do, officially. He would CRUSH me in a mise-en-place challenge.
He's completely cooking-obsessed. Every day he stages elaborate picnics and birthday parties, involving every single piece of play food he owns. (And oh, but he owns a lot.) Yesterday he climbed on our bed and made me giant "sandwiches" out of the pillows.
He wants to taste EVERYTHING. Vegetables, meats, fish, even the individual herbs and spices I pull out for dinner. Any toddler-regression into Beige Foods is over with, and it's AMAZING. I took him grocery shopping at Whole Foods on Sunday and it was like...well, like a kid in a candy store, only with artichokes and bell peppers.
The class also covers basic nutrition, including the four food groups, so everything is all "Apples are a fruit! Carrots are a vegetable!" And (my personal heart-squee favorite) "Cookies are in the GRAINS GROUP!"
Grains group. Shut up, mini chef! SHUT UP BEFORE I EAT YOUR FACE OFF.
To celebrate his YMCA rock-star-ness, I took him to the bookstore and bought him a kids' cookbook so we could have "extra" cooking camp days at home.
I'm now reading recipes to him as bedtime stories. I...am not making any of this up.
I remember once, a loooooong time ago, standing outside a restaurant with Noah, who was in full-sensory-freak-out mode. Another mother came by with her daughter and said some sympathetic, well-meaning things. She was really very nice about it.
I said something vague, "Like, yeah, he's having a hard time today." She assumed it was food related, like the restaurant had the audacity to serve grilled cheese on weird bread, or something. She started talking about her daughter and food and how I should buy this kids' cookbook because it totally changed their life, once they starting making food together.
"If they make it, they eat it!" she gushed. "Now her favorite food is SUSHI!"
I can't remember what I said -- I know I was polite, at least, and not "BITCH YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE," or anything horrid like that. But I do remember thinking how nice that must be, for it to be that simple.
Because OF COURSE I'd tried to get Noah involved in the kitchen. OF COURSE I'd read that same advice about asking picky eaters to cook and prepare meals and tried it on many, multiple occasions. His occupational therapist even provided us with fun recipe cards and we subscribed to a preschooler magazine that included kid-friendly cooking projects. Macaroni-and-cheese muffins, Noah! Doesn't that sound...um...interesting?
Noah reacted to my requests and offers the same way he reacted to so many things, both innocent and genuinely unpleasant: NO, NOT EVEN, YOUR JEDI MIND TRICKS DO NOT WORK ON ME.
The memory of this encounter flooded back to me while Ezra and I stood in line at the bookstore, getting ready to pay for his cookbook. Pretend Soup. The very book she mentioned. Huh.
Dinnertime remains frustrating for Noah, perhaps even more so lately, since Ezra's little culinary explosion has pushed me out of my lazy Let's Just Not Make Dinner Such A Hassle habits. I've been making more of a concentrated effort to put more variety on the table, AND to give them exactly what we eat, instead of endless dumbed-down versions of pasta with hidden veggies in the sauce. Noah's definitely trying more new foods on a regular basis, as a result, but he sure isn't happy about it. And isn't afraid to let me know exactly how terrible he thinks this whole business is. And how mean I am. And etc.
Over the weekend I caved, however, to his endless pleas for some macaroni and cheese with NO WEIRD STUFF IN IT. (Though little does he know that I haven't served up mac-n-cheese -- boxed or otherwise -- without a generous heaping of pureed cauliflower, white beans or squash in it for YEARS, ha HA.) I grabbed the Annie's and looked around for the pot. Noah had it.
"I want to help," he said.
And he did.