Little Sous Chefs’ Skill School #1: 🍋VEG OUT!🥬 (wash, peel, chop, zest)

“How a school (or any other place of learning) views food sheds a lot of light on how it views education.”

Clark Aldrich, Unschooling Rules

Welcome! Thanks for taking a peek in our kitchen! If you’re just joining us, here’s what you’ve missed of our Cooking Skill School so far:


Cooking Week, Day One: VEG OUT!

Today, we’re getting fresh with all things veg prep —washing, peeling, chopping, zesting, juicing! We hope you and your kids will don an apron, roll up your sleeves, and join us in the kitchen!

SKILL SUPPLY LIST:

  • assortment of produce: carrots, celery, lemons, apples, bananas, fresh herbs
  • colander
  • small cleaver or “crinkle cutter” and/or a butter knife or small paring knife (the latter only for big kids)
  • small child-safe vegetable peeler
  • zester
  • lemon juicer
  • strainer
  • collection of pans, trays, and small bowls

VOCABULARY TO INTRODUCE:

  • peel, chop, cleaver, discard, zest, juice, strainer

WASH!

Let’s adopt a new ritual you and I: have the kids wash the veggies every night for dinner. It’s a very easy first-kitchen task for kids, requires only a few minutes, and the only clean up afterward is water. Plus, having our kids take over the task of washing the veg ensures that they are not only involved in the preparation of the meal, but that they are also touching and smelling fresh produce before it is peeled, chopped, minced, sautéed, or roasted. In other words, it allows our kids access to the raw ingredients that make up their meals. And I believe this to be a powerful thing.

Perhaps I am overly romantic for thinking that bathing a bright orange carrot may make our daughter more apt to munch one at the table . . .

Maybe I am naïve to suppose that smelling a bunch of fresh rosemary may sensorially prepare our son for the herbaceous slivered greens on the scalloped potatoes . . .

Perhaps I fancy myself to believe that feeling first with their hands that spongy texture of mushrooms will prepare our kids to experience it next on their teeth . . ..

Yet I have witnessed each of these little culinary miracles and many more in the process of cooking with our kids.

INSTRUCTIONS:

1.) Place the to-be-washed produce to the left side of the sink, a large colander over the sink, a step stool (for littles) in front of the sink, and a clean towel spread out on the counter to the right of the sink.

2.) Show your child how to wash the target fruit(s) and vegetable(s), first demonstrating once or twice, and then allowing your child to mimic once while you watch before being left to finish the remainder of the task independently.


PEEL!

What?? Let a two-year-old peel a carrot? I say . . . yes! Kids need to be allowed to acquire practical life skills, some of which might be considered slightly dangerous. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting we let our toddlers slice the bagels at breakfast. But honestly, a peeler poses very little risk to our child’s safety. A skinned finger isn’t fun, but it’s hardly life-threatening, and I don’t think we should allow the worry of it to keep our children from gaining these powerful moments of practical independence. Furthermore, the best way to learn not to run a vegetable peeler down your index finger is to do it once.

our two-year-old, peeling carrots for the first time and . . . NO BLOOD!

INSTRUCTIONS:

1.) Start with carrots, especially for littles. Potatoes, being oblong, are much trickier to peel. Carrots are perfect because they are long and have a built in handle for little fists to grip. You may, of course, allow an older child to try peeling potatoes. Our six-year-old now peels potatoes, but with both kids we have started with carrots.

2.) Place washed carrots on a towel or tray to the left of a glass Pyrex or shallow tray with a child-safe, wide-handled vegetable peeler inside. Place another plate or tray to the right of the work station for peeled carrots, and a discard bowl or dish above the work station for the child to place ribbons/peels.

3.) Show your child how to pick up a carrot on their left, pick up their peeler with their right hand (unless left-handed of course) and hold the carrot over the working tray. Demonstrate how to clutch the butt of the carrot with the left hand and pull a length of ribbon peel down the length of the carrot, starting close to your gripping hand and working to the root of the carrot. Be sure to explain what will happen if the peeler is pressed or pulled on their skin. You can even show them a ribbon of carrot peel and explain that this is exactly what can happen to the skin if peeled as well.

4.) Allow your child time to peel a few carrots. The carrots may not be peeled perfectly; but watching a child peel them truly is.


CHOP!

“The intellectual rationale for [taking responsibility from a child] is again perfectly logical: If a knife is sharp and can hurt a child, we should protect the child from the potential harm. But what if . . . the opportunity for a child to feel useful is worth the risk of parted flesh? Because to feel useful is a powerful thing. To feel trusted is a powerful thing.”

Ben Hewitt, Home Grown

My husband takes emergency call at our local hospital, so neither of us take accidents lightly. I am in no way suggesting we throw caution to the wind and give to a four-year-old her first set of chef-knives. However, I do believe that knives are a very integral part of our practical lives and that children should gain skills in preparation of using them as early as possible.

  • For children under three: start with a butter knife and a banana
  • For kids three and up (and perhaps even very coordinated two-year-olds): start with a crinkle cutter /child-safe cleaver and I personally suggest safety goggles
  • For kids beginning about six or seven and only AFTER having mastered the crinkle cutter: begin lessons with a small paring knife and consider knife-safe gloves
don’t start with onions! 😆

INSTRUCTIONS:

1.) Place a cutting board before your child with his or her cleaver or knife atop. Place a tray with a banana (for tots) or celery sticks (for use for crinkle/cleaver) to the left of the board. Set a small bowl or dish to the right of the cutting board for slices, and another small bowl or dish at the top of the cutting board for discard.

2.) Show your child how to hold the butter knife, cleaver, or paring knife. Take extra time to demonstrate the dangers of a blade. Explain that fingers must always be out of the way of the blade. Explain that eyes don’t heal.

3.) Allow your child ample time to chop. If your child wants to chop more veggies than your family can eat in a given period of time, consider juicing them, sautéing them and freezing them for a later-date soup, or simply discarding them to the compost pile. Remember, this is art time.

Another great chopping activity is to use an apple slicer!

INSTRUCTIONS:

1.) Prepare your work station as above, but substitute an apple slicer for a knife or cleaver, and prepare apples in thick slices cross-wise so your child is able to press through the apple without much difficulty.

2.) Show your child how to take an apple slice, place it on his or her cutting board, and use the apple slicer to cut the slice into bite-sized pieces for lunch. Take the time to show your child how to only hold the handles of the apple slicer and never grip the bottom where the blades are. Show her how to press down, even using her body weight, to slice cleanly all the way through to the board. Very little kids may even need to “shift” or rotate the slicer firmly a few times once at the board to fully sever the apple.

3.) Demonstrate to your child how they can “poke” the pieces out of the slicer and place in the bowl to the right, and remove the core and seed rounds to the discard bowl. Ensure that they “poke” from the top and not backwards toward the blades.


ZEST!

In my experience, a zester is to a cheese-grater what sandpaper is to a wood-chipper. I have yet to hand either of our kids a cheese-grater, and I readily give to them a cleaver! This is because it is honestly very difficult to use a cheese-grater without shreds of palm ending up mixed in with the cheese or zucchini. A zester, on the other hand, is the perfect baby-step skill-builder for grating! Firstly, it has a nice, long handle. Hallelujah. And secondly, the grates are so small that zested skin is more akin to the experience of using a Ped Egg rather than that of a wood-chipper.

INSTRUCTIONS:

1.) Set up a work station similarly to those outlined above: a cutting board in the center, washed citrus to the left, small bowl for zest to the right.

2.) Show your child how to hold the citrus fruit in the palm of her left hand and the handle of the zester in her right. Demonstrate how to pull the zester along the rind of the fruit and to push the zest backward down the inside of the zester and into the bowl. Older children may also try zesting a nutmeg clove, which is a lovely, fragrant task.


PLUCK!

I’m not sure there is anything more glorious than a pile of fresh herbs from the garden. Prepping herbs with kids is a feast for the senses and fantastic pincher-grasp conditioning for little fingers!


Tune in tomorrow for Day Two of Cooking Week: 🥄MEASURE UP; in cups, spoons, and on a scale!

Thanks so much for reading!

Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~

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