Today my guest in the Kids in the Kitchen series (where we meet parents and children who bond, have fun and make life long memories in their kitchens) is Susan and her three adorable boys!
From managing a restaurant to organizing food events, from catering to product development, from recipe development for small and corporate organizations to writing for food magazines, from food-styling to working behind the scenes of a cooking show, even a few gigs on-camera, Meet Susan who I admire dearly and have immense respect for. And if what I told you about her wasn’t enough, this lady here also writes a fabulous food blog called Susan’s Savour-It!, is the Food Revolution Canada and Toronto Super Ambassador and loves teaching kids how to cook. She is also a Lunch Club Coach for Real Food For Real Kids where she encourages kids to eat their catered school lunch while inspiring them with food education along the way. Come Spring 2016, she will also be teaching adult culinary classes and which is when we will also get to try her recipes from A global cookbook– Taste of the Place; a cookbook collaboration where she has contributed heritage Chinese recipes. Phew!
Say hi to Susan & her little boys and their daddy!
Please tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a mom and have been a proud culinary professional for 15 years. Nothing brings me more joy than to feed bellies and bask in the diverse multicultural foods we are lucky to have in my hometown Toronto in Canada. Food to me is a connector to everything– it connects us to our Mother earth, it brings people together, and bridges cultures as a universal language that bonds. With such a smorgasbord of fabulicious global delicacies to experience, my life’s motto is to sip and savour to the fullest by taking the family and whoever wants to come along, on a lifetime of taste adventures– and that starts at home with cooking. My food blog Susan’s Savour-It! is about savouring scratch-cooking and sharing our family favourites.
Please tell us a little about your children?
My three boys are as rambunctious and silly as they come. My six-year old twins Étienne and Sébastien are cut from two different cloths. Étienne is like his engineer dad– methodological who dots his i’s and crosses his t’s. He has amazing penmanship, loves arts and science, and telling jokes; if he could he would hug his soccer ball to sleep every night. He dislikes being told what he is doing is wrong, and we’re working on that. His twin brother Sébastien, on the other hand is whimsical and all over the place (just like me). He loves reading, arts and drama– singing and dancing is his thing, and he would cook with me every night if I let him! He’s not a fan of structure, and we’re working on that. My baby Matias is four and can hold his own against his older brothers. He loves drawing, cute things and bananas (I truly think he is a minion in disguise). He dislikes being told he is not cute…. He wants to stay cute with chubby cheeks forever!
Do your boys “cook” with you? How do you involve them in the kitchen/during meal times/grocery shopping?
My older boys cook with me occasionally, but as they gain new skills and confidence I would like to involve them more. My meals tend to take some time to prepare as I cook mostly everything from scratch and enjoy making different cultural dishes on a regular basis. They help me with simple tasks rather than cook from start to end. When grocery shopping, I would take the kids out individually or in a pair to keep the chaos in check. Supermarkets are a plethora of sights and smells– I encourage them to use their senses to look, touch and smell the produce if possible and to ask lots of questions. To distract them from fighting or running off, I like to quiz them on the produce– what they’ve tried and what things are, and also keep them busy by asking them to help me choose and bag fruits and vegetables. They just love the trip to the store and helping me grocery shop!
In the kitchen, my rule of thumb for engaging my children is with less time, do smaller tasks such as tearing up lettuce for salad, peeling carrots and beating eggs, and with more time on the weekends, they can perform bigger tasks such as cooking and wrapping (like dumplings), and participate more in the entire process, even if it’s just observing me. Matias gets involved too with husking corn, scooping seeds out of melons and cutting ends off green beans with a kid’s knife. Preparing meals are so educational; children quickly pick up new skills when they’re having fun- they learn about weighing, measuring, mixing, spreading, pouring, chopping, sautéing, organizing and following instructions, as well as finding out how ingredients work together. As important it is to immerse my kids in the meal preparations, it has been invaluable to teach them good meal-time habits- setting up the table and clearing their dishes at the end of meals, and eating without distractions. They learn proper etiquette and it helps me out too!
How do you think their getting involved in either or all of the above has altered their food habits?
Cooking absolutely helps with their eating habits. I find cooking together as a family greatly contributes to healthy eating. When they were involved with the grocery/meal/snacks decision-making and the cooking process they were more likely to eat and enjoy it. Making the change from cooking for your kids to cooking with your kids can feel like a chore. Of course, it’s easier, faster and less messy if you just do it yourself, but if you allow your children to take part in some of the preparations, you will give them a sense of ownership and pride, and the results are a cleaned off plate or empty lunchbox. Before you know it, they will be trying new foods, getting creative and helping to bring a positive and healthy attitude to the family table. And it can be a superb way to motivate fussy eaters to try new tastes and gain confidence with a variety of foods.
How do you deal with mess/chaos that comes with them being in the kitchen? More importantly how do you maintain your sanity?
I admit I don’t have a high tolerance for mess in general. So it was a challenge initially, to have my kids cook with me when they were around four. I never understood parents with the food-splattered toddler spaghetti bowl over the head, or relate to parents who give their young children free reign in the kitchen. To keep my mess threshold in check, I always set parameters to manage my expectations and sanity. Organizing or knowing where all the required ingredients and equipment is key to focus on the task at hand. Our kitchen is small, and it can get really crowded with the kids huddled at the counter. If they are chopping, we let the twins take turns, and we set a big bowl out to collect the waste. Knife skills are big for them right now! For more space, we move to the dining table which has a plastic cover that makes wiping up easy. We spread the kids within an arms-length of each other and give them their own cutting board and paring knife. For baking, they take turns at scooping, measuring, beating and forming the dough. Everyone gets a task so no one feels left out or under-utilized. Then I am able to throw caution in the wind, and let it go.
I believe that our time together engaged in food regularly, whether it was discussing where food comes from, how to shop for fresh ingredients, getting them involved in the meal preparations and just having them try new foods and cuisines has set them up for being food smart, curious and excited about what they eat and what they put into their bodies! And as a parent, I know I am doing my rightful duty to teach important culinary literacy to my children that will last a lifetime! This translates to everyday life- trying a new recipe is not unlike learning math or problem-solving skills. It takes persistence, resilience, patience and creative thinking- life lessons that are worthy of a messy kitchen!
Is there any recipe that your boys would like to share with all the young chefs out there?
A simple recipe my kids love making from scratch to finish is guacamole which lets them just do it without much assistance. From washing, prepping the fresh ingredients, scooping the avocado seed, mashing and seasoning to enjoying the fruits of their labour, they adore this healthy dip.
Read how Susan helped her children compare the ingredients in a store bought guacamole vs. the one they made at home and get the recipe here.
Thank you Susan for dropping by with Étienne, Sébastien and Matias. For the past one year I have seen so many pictures of your children and you in the kitchen but it is only now that I can say I have finally “met” them.
Do you cook with your kids? Did you enjoy meeting Susan and her cute little boys? I’d love to hear.
Meet the other parents who have visited us in the past here.
Images: The pictures in the post have been shared by Susan and cannot be reused without her permission. If you like any of the pictures on this blog and would like to use those please write to me. I put in hours of work behind each post and would love to share it with you but it would hurt me if use those without my permission. Just ask!