Why A Child’s Place is In the Kitchen: Relating To and Through Food

Mar 23, 2009 by

This post was featured in the Charlotte Mason blog carnival on June 9, 2009

Mom and kids cooking

The question is not,—how much does the youth know? When he has finished his education—but how much does he care? And about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And therefore, how full is the life he has before him?  — Charlotte Mason

Psalm 31:8 Thou hast set my feet in a large room.

My French mother-in-law, Lucienne, once told me early in my marriage that she thought that cooking well helped one keep one’s husband.  I felt a tiny bit defensive; I was working on it. When my Polish sister-in-law, Margozata, and I observed that we didn’t cook as well as our sister-in-law, Marie-Hélène, who had grown up there in the family village, Lucienne tried to console us with, “But you have other good qualities.”

If it’s true that the surest way to the heart is through the stomach, we non-French cooks will just have to do the best we can.

Mother feeding baby When my baby was born, once again came the call to feed well in love.  As it is for the rest of us, the way to a baby’s heart is through feeding time. Food is central to the care and nurturing of a child, but furthermore, it’s the primal soup in which parent-baby bonding germinates.  A baby associates feeding with love, comfort, safety. A child who loves healthy foods as he grows up is a one who learns to relate positively to food in the company of his parents. It’s all related, at a gut level.

Every baby is born not only eager to eat, but also wanting to cook like Mom and Dad. Not only is it a primary means of relating to other humans, but cooking is intrinsically interesting in its own right: stirring, mixing, measuring, cracking eggs, creating, using tools like knives, mixers, fire, not to mention the eating. The processes are sheer experimentation, with reactions, transformations, surprises, delights and disasters.  It’s as richly fascinating a subject as any. Gardening, too, deepens a child’s relationship to food.  What they cook, they will want to eat; what they grow, all the more so.

Even grocery shopping can be an opportunity for kids to get acquainted with food. When my children were little, I would take them to the Farmer’s Market in Decatur, Georgia, the world’s best grocery store.  We would taste samples, look at the cheeses, the vast array of produce, and the seafood—some of it still wriggling. We would often eat lunch together there at the buffet of exotic foods.  My children gained connections to all kinds of food and culture while spending enjoyable time as a family.  They got to know Real Food and had fun doing it. As a result, they aren’t distrustful of it. It’s not foreign to them like it is to some of the youngsters who ring up my groceries and don’t recognize the radishes coming across the conveyor belt.

By leading a child to relate to all that is good in the world, we place their feet in a large room and give them a fuller life.

For some folks, though, their original, built-in interest in food is extinguished along the way instead of fostered.

Some years ago, we visited Rome and were given an incredibly informative tour by my husband’s distant cousin.  Jean-Jacques was a French priest and former physician who formulates family issues policy for the Vatican. He’d been in Italy for nine years. He knew everything about Roman history.

We were struck, on the other hand, by his complete indifference to where or what we ate.  He ate food, of course, but he had no relationship with it and apparently took no pleasure in it. He ate to live, but he clearly didn’t live to eat. My eyes were opened to just how different people can be from one another when I asked him where capers* came from and he had no idea. Nor did he care. It was a shock like the one I got when I first discovered, as an adult, that some people didn’t read the comics. We found it highly unusual for a Frenchman, and a discordant gap in his broad knowledge, like a tragic flaw in a classical Greek hero. We left Rome disappointed in nothing but our gastronomic experiences there. Since Jean-Jacques has no children, at least his disinterest in food was a tragedy only for him. Was it, I have to wonder, perhaps a factor in his remaining single and becoming a priest instead of getting married?

Along with connecting kids to healthy food and to each other, cooking is one of the richest educational opportunities available to a family.  Cooking is a natural way to work, relate and share with others.  It gives a child the chance to both deepen and satisfy his inborn curiosity. He follows directions, takes responsibility, uses his hands and head, and finds satisfaction in concrete accomplishment.  It’s real living. What could be more practical than taking advantage of this natural part of life to teach and equip your youngsters with such valuable assets?

I’m grasping my last opportunities to pass on all these assets to my son, who is going off to college in September.  I tell him that the ability to cook—which he already has a head start on, being half French—is a quality that will make him a valued roommate, and furthermore, good husband material.

I think my mother-in-law would approve.


Capon “Food and cooking are among the richest subjects in the world. Every day of our lives, they preoccupy, delight and refresh us. Food is not just some fuel we need to get us going toward higher things. Cooking is not a drudgery we put up with in order to get the fuel delivered. Rather, each is a heart’s astonishment. Both stop us dead in our tracks with wonder. Even more, they sit us down evening after evening, and in the company that forms around our dinner tables, they actually create our humanity.”

– Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection

Capers in dish

*Capers are the unripened flower buds of a Mediterranean perennial shrub, used pickled in the cooking of that region.

©  Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 19 March 2009 / All rights reserved