How to Make Kids Appreciate the Food You Make

My daughter is an average sized child, not too tall or short or thin or overweight for her age. But she eats like a trooper especially when I make her home-cooked meals and I’m not even a very good cook compared with the other cooks in my family.

The fact that she is appreciative of the food I make for her is because when she was younger, maybe 4 or 5 years old, I let her watch her 70+ year old grandmother labour in the kitchen to make dinner for us.

One thing you need to understand about this is that we lived in one of those wooden houses you see in kampung areas. Those type of houses are cold as winter during the nights and hot as hell during the day.

As she watched her grandmother de-scale and de-gut fish or pluck feathers off a kampung chicken, or chop up meat and bone to make soup, she herself will be drenched in sweat. The hot unforgiving sun and the zinc roof turned the kitchen into a sauna on a daily basis.

Yet instead of complaining, her sense of curiosity will take over and she would ask 99 questions per hour. What is this, what is that, why is po po doing that to the chicken feet, why throw that away, what do you call this, why does it look like this, what is she adding to the soup, what does that do?

I would help fill in the blanks or ask grandma to explain to her (to be honest, it’s more of the latter. It’s a learning experience for the both of us). In between each ingredient prep, she would run off to play. And when grandma is going to prepare the next item, po po would holler from the kitchen and we would assemble next to her once again.

Come dinner time, I will identify the dish on the dinner table, and relate it with the raw ingredients that grandma had prepared just now. Remember when po po removed the scale or pluck the feathers? That is what you are eating now.

Her eyes will grow bigger with recognition, and I know that the connection has been made.

I do this often but not every day. If we can opt out of being in the hot kitchen, we would (we’re only human, not superhuman like po po) but every now and then, grandma would prepare a special meal and we would stand on the sideline and watch her work her magic.

To be honest, I did this only to introduce more of the kampung life to my daughter. I was pleasantly surprised that she understood the link between the work in the kitchen and the food at the table during dinner time. A side effect of that is that she is appreciative of every home-cooked meal, be it made by me or by her grandma.

She would ask for a second helping of rice and sometimes mid-meal, she would mumble to herself, “this is so delicious”. That’s like music to my ears after spending three hours making soup for her. (It takes only an hour now with a pressure cooker, but still…)

Now that she is older, I ask for her help to peel carrots or daikon, cut cucumbers, wash leafy vegetables or pluck water spinach (bayam). When we go to the market, she is the one who picks the tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and corn to make her favourite ABC soup.

The fact that she does this voluntarily is something that makes all those Q&A sessions in the kitchen years ago so worth it.

More Reading: Why Mothers Cook

Why Mothers Cook

Before I got married, I only know how to make a couple of egg dishes, stir fry vegetables and tasteless, bland soup.

I love food but I don’t really like making it. You take forever to shop for ingredients, then another forever to prepare the ingredients. Sometimes the recipe works, sometimes it doesn’t. Everyone is a critic and the wash up afterwards is just so darn tiring. Can you blame me for preferring takeout?

Six months ago, my significant other got me a pressure cooker. The purchase opened up half a world of possibilities for me. I have the tool, but I still need the skills (pretty much how to properly use the darn thing). So I joined a Facebook Group there. That’s where I found a full world of possibilities waiting for me.

HDIM Makes Char Siu

Since Sliced Bread

It’s the best invention ever. The pressure cooker. Throw all your ingredients in and push a few buttons, and let it cut down the cooking time to about a third of the usual time. There is minimal clean up afterwards, results are almost always the same, flavourful, calming and fulfilling – pretty much the last three adjectives I would use to describe my cooking.

But everyone is happy with what I make. And that makes me happy.

I’ve even started baking. If you told me exactly a year ago that I would be making Japanese cheesecakes (yeah, the jiggly type) like a pro (ok, semi-pro), I’d call you crazy, and perhaps a few other names just to drive the point home.

HDIM Bakes Marble Cheesecake
HDIM Bakes Marble Cheesecake

My mother and late grandmothers don’t bake. It’s just not something people in my bloodline do. We buy cakes. We don’t make them. And yet, here I am making jiggly cheesecakes and chocolate cheesecakes with baking paper and a baking tin.

HDIM Bakes Cheesecakes in the Pressure Cooker

Other times, I bake chicken instead. A good friend of mine told me that I would love baking. And she was right. Baked chicken is a different kind of goodness, and should be savoured by all.

HDIM Bakes Chicken Drumsticks

Apart from baking, I also use my pressure cooker to make delicious, nutritious soups, curries and even steamed seafood. And I don’t have to stand over the hot stove for hours to get them done. I just throw them in, and an hour later, take them all out and prep for dinner.

HDIM Pressure Cooked Dinners
HDIM Pressure Cooked Dinners

I’ve always known the feeling of coming home to a hot dinner. It is one of the ways I know I am loved – be it by my mom or my mom-in-law. And now I pour all of that effort back into the food I make for my kids, my significant other, my extended family and my guests.

My biggest fan is my daughter, who takes two bowls of rice whenever I cook. She spoils me with praises (which I ignore) and almost always takes a second helping of rice and the soups I make (which I appreciate).

I get it now. I get why moms cook. And I get why moms get upset when you don’t come home for dinner when you said you would. But I digress.

By controlling what I make for her (no fried foods, not too oily, minimising artificial seasoning, opting for healthier alternatives), I don’t have to worry whether she is eating right or if she lacks certain nutrients. I’ve got the minimum covered.

I let her indulge in junk food if her father is the one who bought it for her. She knows to not take soft drinks after any school or sports activities that make her sweat (only water) and when it comes to ice cream, it’s a weekly family activity. Children need childhood memories, after all.

So yeah, get a pressure cooker if you haven’t got one. It will change your life in the kitchen and at home.

Personal thoughts: I need to take better-looking photographs.