Mom Talk: The Joy Of Cooking With Kids
Written by Eunice Byun
Photography by Photo Courtesy of Eunice Byun
New York-based mother of two Eunice Byun might seem like a familiar face within these digital pages. And that’s because she is! The founder of modern cookware brand Material has shared her foodie-inspired Mother Essentials and also penned a poignant essay on stopping anti-Asian hate. Today’s she’s back with a lighter subject: the joy of cooking with kids and how the experience itself can be transformational for all parties involved. (Bonus: It also lines up with Material’s launch of its very first set of kid-sized cooking supplies!) For both seasoned cooks and beginners, read Eunice’s POV below!
I started baking with my daughter right before her fifth birthday. Our home’s never-ending supply of browning bananas seemed as good an excuse as any to whip up a loaf of banana bread. We mashed the bananas, mixed the dry ingredients together, scooped in the secret ingredient (sour cream), added the eggs and vanilla extract, sprinkled in the chocolate chips (skip the walnuts), and popped our pan in the oven. We waited until we could smell the sweetness fill the air, helping us drum up an appetite and pulled our tin out. It was flat as a pancake.
“Mom! It doesn’t look like banana bread!”
I racked my brain with what went wrong. What did I forget? I’d measured things out, reached over and leveled off the flour, pulled the baking powder out of the pantry, let her crack an egg, that predictably got all over her hands and the countertop. We scooped the sour cream out, I stole a few chocolate chips from the bag while she measured those, and took over for the final mixing and pouring of the mixture into the pan.
Ah, the baking powder. We never put in the baking powder that I pulled from the pantry.
I fessed up.
“Mommy was rushing and didn’t put in the baking powder, so that’s why it didn’t rise.”
My daughter looked at me for a few seconds. Her eyes scanned my face, and she began to speak.
“It’s okay, Mommy. It reminds me of the mochi rice cake that Hammi makes. I think it will still taste good.” (Hammi is our nickname for Grandma).
I couldn’t believe it.
Here was my daughter, comforting me for a baking session gone awry. The daughter that a few days earlier burst into tears while writing her “2s” because they were flipped the wrong way, proclaiming that she would never be good at anything because she couldn’t even write a “2.” The same daughter that would repeat over and over to herself that she had to “be perfect” when something wouldn’t quite turn out the way she had intended. Yet, in the kitchen, her never-ending pursuit of “perfect” faded away. What was it about cooking with kids that teaches them (and us parents) so much?
The very act of cooking is transformational. A few unassuming ingredients can magically become something else altogether. Sometimes the same actions lead to slightly different results. Sometimes, after you’ve made something a few times you might riff on it, tweaking the recipe and gaining confidence as you build skills. But it helps kids, like my daughter, learn that there’s not always just one path to right and that “discovery” moments abound in the kitchen.
Yes, there are recipes to follow but each time it might come out a little bit different. There’s room for experimentation, mistakes, ingenuous inventions, and moments to remember. A perfect example? Scones—a mixture that feels so wrong as the shaggy, messy dough comes together, a deliciously hands-on task in and of itself. Add in a few of your top mix-ins and it becomes a yum-inducing, cozy treat.
Beyond gaining new skills (or just having a good time), cooking opens up their palates, encouraging them to try new flavors and textures. From a young age, my husband and daughter would taste spices together while cooking. They would first sniff them, trying to guess what they were smelling, followed by a taste test. Some she liked (smoked paprika) and some she didn’t like (cumin). These taste adventures always led to conversations around being open to trying new things—maybe it smelled strong to the nose but it tasted amazing when mixed into the dish itself.
Perhaps most surprising, I’ve found that cooking with my kids is good…for me. It helps me slow down for a bit and remember that messes aren’t the worst (and that even grown-ups make mistakes). My daughter, who is now seven, and I still talk about our mochi banana bread discovery, especially when talking about things not going as planned. It opened my eyes to the power of these discovery moments. Yes, sometimes I step in to get things done faster, more accurately or efficiently, but I’ve learned that given the time, space, and agency to figure it out for herself, she rises to the task and often in a way I would not have predicted. It’s a lesson in navigating through the world and problem solving with joy for both of us.
There are many other reasons why cooking with kids is beneficial (the reading and math parts), but for my family it’s about the creativity, the riffing, and the improvisation that develops confidence that make being together in the kitchen all the better. These moments inspired our newest Material collection—The Kids Set, pint-sized versions of some of our favorite tools in punchy colors and grippy materials, perfect for the youngest cooks in your kitchen (or those looking for a pop of color). To help jumpstart the creativity, we teamed up with our good friends: cookbook author, Joshua David Stein, and illustrator, Erin Jang to develop a visual recipe game that encourages experimentation and imaginative thinking when in the kitchen. We hope it inspires some memorable (and tasty!) moments in your kitchens!
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