I’m taking a little detour from my usual blogging route to share one of those neat ventures I mentioned a few days ago when I talked about our family’s summer. It still falls into the category of activities for kids and actually is inspired by a DC offering, but it took place here on the home front…well, on several of them.
A few months ago, at the time many of us were figuring out our kids’ activities for the summer, my friend Torey emailed a couple of friends and me with information about a cooking camp she’d read about. It sounded great–the kids would spend a week learning about cooking techniques, use a variety of ingredients and try different cuisines, and get hands-on experience in the kitchen as they helped prepare a meal each day.
Then I read the bottom line. Which was a lot. We’d already taken advantage of a LivingSocial deal and registered Owen for a week of soccer camp at Sidwell Summer (which we give two huge thumbs-up!), and he was also signed up for a neighborhood camp that let him drop in a couple of days a week, so I wasn’t so keen on adding the expense of another camp to our summer bill. It seemed to be a shared sentiment, so Torey came up with another, better, absolutely brilliant idea… we’d have our own cooking camp.
It worked like this: Each of us — four moms, plus Torey’s mother, who was visiting from Phoenix — took turns hosting the kids (our 4- and 5-year-olds) at our houses for a day of culinary fun. We all came up with meals that would be simple but interesting, fun to prepare, and, of course, tasty for the kids. We decided to spread the camp out over two weeks, so the campers wouldn’t get tired of doing the same thing everyday, but kept the dates close enough so they’d remember what they learned during previous lessons. And we took turns watching each other’s little ones, so we could focus on the camp while we hosted, and younger siblings could play while the big kids cooked.
It was important to make the venture feel special, like a real camp, so the kids would both enjoy themselves and take it seriously. Thus, we included some gear — each child got their own little apron with their name painted on it, a binder to hold the printed recipes, a wooden spoon also decorated with their name, and a plastic cutting mat — and tried to follow the same basic schedule each day, though timing depended on what we were making.
As for our menus, we tried to make dishes the kids were familiar with and would enjoy eating. And we consulted with each other to make sure there was no duplication. Chicken fajitas, mini pizzas, veggie sausage kabobs, broccoli and cheese quiche, and homemade pasta were among the main dishes, all of them made from scratch. Side dishes included risotto balls, black bean and corn salad, Caesar salad, pesto, guacamole, and smoothies. And the desserts — peach tarts, lemon popsicles, watermelon sorbet, brownies, and fresh berry parfait — were all perfect treats to round out the meals. As they created the dishes, the campers learned about vegetarianism (Owen came home that day and declared himself an omnivore), the difference between slicing and dicing, cooking measurements, the importance of kitchen safety, the meaning of al dente, and much more culinary info that they still talk about weeks later. Needless to say, the kids enjoyed the fruits (and veggies) of their cooking camp labor. And so did all of us moms.
The summer break is winding down, but if your kids have some time to fill until they return to their classrooms, cooking camp is a fun, interesting, and delicious way to spend it. Or, bookmark the idea for the next break from school. And if you do give cooking camp a go, here are some tips to help it run smoothly:
1. Plan dishes with processes that are fun for kids, preferably ones that require them to use their hands, like skewering kabobs, rolling dough, cracking eggs, and cranking a pasta maker.
2. Split up tasks equally, giving all kids a turn with gadgets, measurements, etc.
3. Make a game out of timing their turns, like having the other kids count in Spanish.
4. Explain the processes and techniques as you go.
5. Let them take a snack and play break during the lesson to keep their attention spans fresh.
6. Have all the kids stand on stools around an island or sit at a table, as long as they are all doing the same thing (trust me, they will note this).
7. Quiz them on what they’ve learned now and then, so they stay interested in the lesson.
8. Have fun and Bon Appétit!