If you want to get better at cooking for kids, you don’t need to pick up another book. You don’t need to scroll through another blog. You definitely don’t need to take any classes. To get better at cooking for kids, you only need to do one thing: listen to them.
Yes, listen to them. I’m not really talking about infants and toddlers, but rather about slightly older kids. If you give them a chance, they will tell you what they want. Heck, even if you don’t give them a chance you’ll hear all about what they want. I’m not saying you have to give them everything they want, but if you listen to them you might just be surprised at the results.
As anyone who has ever been married knows, listening does not necessarily come naturally. Sometimes, it has to be learned. I can’t claim to be an expert at listening, but I am an expert at studying how to do it. I’ve discovered it’s a three-step process. The first and the last steps are to stop talking. This also happens to be the second step.
While you’re at it, if you’re going to stop talking, you might as well stop blaming, too. And judging. And minimizing. And otherwise invalidating the child’s experience. Listening is key to acceptance. And acceptance is key to everything. I don’t have the vocabulary, experience, or expertise to explain this, and I don’t expect you to take my word for it. Instead, read a bit about the life experience of Marsha M. Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. She started out as a disturbed child intent on harming herself and who found freedom and salvation through self-acceptance. For some practical advice, check out this piece on Psychology Today’s website by Dr. Karyn Hall.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that everyday I learn the lesson of how important it is to listen. Just the other day I made Puttanesca sauce for Nina and Pinta. The elder one had been longing for it for a while, and I was pleased to break out of a recent cooking drought (have you noticed a lack of posts???) by stirring up the old favorite.
But that dinner didn’t go quite as planned. I had chopped the tomatoes and both of my children were put off by the chunkiness of the sauce. They didn’t want to eat it, and I heard them. I often make the pasta and sauce as a side for frozen Alaskan salmon (which is so good it needs no recipe), and it mattered little to me if they ate the pasta with a sauce or plain.
Last night, I made the sauce again, but this time around I hit the canned tomatoes with my Braun immersion blender, and the sauce was as smooth as the night was fun. From the second when Nina came home from school and smelled that familiar aroma in the air and wondered what it was, to the moment that Pinta shouted out “Puttanesca,” from her piano bench where she was practicing, it was a peaceful and joyful evening. Listening, it turns out, is good for everyone.
- One 28 oz. can peeled plum tomatoes, crushed (or hit with an immersion blender)
- 4 or more cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
- 3 anchovy fillets
- 1 chili pepper (or a quick shake of red-pepper flakes)
- 1 T capers
- 12 or so black olives, pitted and sliced
- herbs such as basil or oregano to taste (completely optional)
Heat some olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the garlic and anchovies and chili pepper (or red pepper flakes).
Sauté until the garlic is soft, then add the tomatoes and reduce.
When the sauce thickens (in about fifteen minutes), add capers and olives and any herbs.
Serve over the pasta of your choice.