Les Petits Chefs and Fresh Ingredients

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There are so many important things for us to teach our children.  We must teach them to be strong and independent, we must teach them to be honest and to respect other people, and we must teach them to be confident. Almost above all though,  I think we must also teach them how to cook.

I don’t think they have to be budding MasterChefs or aim for stardom in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but I do think a basic knowledge of cooking and where food comes from is one of the greatest gifts we can give them; at the very least they will be able to make well-informed decisions about food when they are older, and in my mind, lead healthy and knowledgeable lives.

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I really think that children should start young, and I love how they ‘experiment’ their way around the kitchen. A knowledge of cooking brings about a knowledge of food, and letting them be tactile by feeling freshness between their fingers teaches them intuitively about nutrition; there is a natural progression from understanding natural ingredients to cooking healthy, down to earth, basic food.

 

 

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Along the way I’m a firm believer in making my children see that fruit and vegetables are far from perfect; they need washing, they need blemishes cutting out, but even the most ugly and misshapen ones are natural and as nature intended.

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I know they’ll make a mess in the kitchen, but at the end of the day does it really matter? A while ago now Hetty wrote down my basic sponge recipe, and she uses it regularly; in fact she’s become quite competent at making cakes and along the way she’s learnt about weights and measures. Home economics, as it used to be taught, is a collection of many different and varied skills…..

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Food is always a hot topic of conversation in our house. Roddy is, in my opinion, the star of the show. He is one of those enviable cooks who can  take stock of what is on hand, wander around the kitchen garden, pick what is ripe and ready for eating, add a handful of herbs and concoct the most perfect meal. In this day and age, many of us do not have hours and hours each day in the kitchen to prepare a long lavish meal (this is, after all, why fast convenience food has become such a hit), but I think that in the time it takes to drive to a takeaway and wait in line and collect a meal, something can also be simply prepared at home. There are many times when we are in a mad rush here; four evenings a week someone has a different sport which means one of us is the taxi driver, and on these evenings we often have something simple; eggs, roasted vegetables and there’s always a dish of oven-roasted garlic and tomatoes. It’s a staple side-dish for us and combines so many vital things in a wonderful simple package.

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Add a trip to the local market and we are really getting down to business. Whenever the children are on holiday they come with us and I love letting them choose the freshest of vegetables; they always have a chat with the ‘cheese-man’ and he loves nothing more than cutting off tiny morsels of different varieties for them to try. The vegetable lady will hand them something fresh to snack on, and the olive lady will always offer them samples as well.

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At the fish counter, there is no point in going with any form of preconceived idea as to what we’re going to cook, as what we actually bring home will depend on what’s been caught. If the weather has been favourable and the seas calm there will be a great deal more choice than if it has been stormy and the boats have not been able to go out. Our market fish-stand is full of choice from boats both large and small, and over the years Roddy has taught us to know what’s been at sea for a couple of weeks in a hold, and what’s been caught the evening before. It’s all part of the education, learning where our food comes from and learning what to buy; in my opinion our children cannot start young enough and they need to learn quickly. Many of their young school-friends have been brought up in a similar way (that seems to be the way in France) and they understand how matters work also.

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I love to make bread, and although I am a huge fan of our village bakery, I also enjoy a simple home-made wholewheat loaf and it’s still the best bread for making traditional sandwiches. Recently I’ve also started making brioche; it’s an adventure to try something new, and unlike the shop bought varieties I don’t add sugar to the mixture. Instead I just sprinkle some on top, otherwise I find it too sweet.

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With Izzi home from Univeristy on Spring-break at the moment, we have another chef in the kitchen; she started cooking just like the others when she was perhaps 8 or 9 and she’s now an extremely competent cook. Her natural love of food has meant that even away at University she cooks both for herself, and many of her friends, almost every day. One of the reasons she takes her food so seriously there is that when she first started on campus she caught every virus in circulation, and she very quickly decided the only way forward was to keep her body healthy from the inside and ward off all the bugs with super-food!

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The smaller girls love to cook supper with Roddy; it’s sometimes a slow process, so it requires patience, but they’re learning the basics one by one.

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At the end of the day I can honestly say if we were abducted by aliens and the children were left home alone they really would cook themselves something healthy and nutritious for supper; it might just be a fried-egg and some broccoli and carrots, but they would instinctively know what they need to eat and I cannot ask for anything more than that. So I encourage you to get your children cooking, get your grand-children cooking, even get inspired yourself in the kitchen, it is really rewarding both inwardly and outwardly.

Bon Appetit x

64 thoughts on “Les Petits Chefs and Fresh Ingredients

  • I think it is wonderful that you are teaching your children to cook.
    It will help them to lead healthier and more independent lives.

    • Thanks Mary Ann, at the end of the day, I think it is all about allowing them choice, if they are informed then they are able to make better decisions and I strongly believe that food does play an integral role in our lives and in our health, we are what we eat. Hope you have had a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • Now, obviously being a cook, I think this is your best and most important post ever!!!
    Only kidding, I love them all but this one is especially close to my heart. My mother and grandmother expected me to help from the age of 4 or 5 and I have loved every minute of it and now enjoy teaching my students what I have learnt.

    • Hi Nadia, this is actually something very very close to my heart too, although I don’t teach cooking or have anything to do with it apart from on a family level, I do feel so strongly about what we eat. I fear for the chemicals today’s children are eating, most of them not having any idea what they are putting in their bodies through no fault of their own but because they have never been told, and why wouldn’t they believe the television adverts telling them to eat this and that, the adverts are good. It’s a tough life that’s for sure! Susan x

      • Thanks Nadia, I know there are so many people out there doing their best, Jamie Oliver in the UK, Foodbabe in the States, to name but two, if we all do our little bit maybe we can help make just a few lives a little better. I am passionate about children, always have been and always will be (maybe that’s why I have 5!) I would do anything for them! Susan x

  • This is so true. I think activities in France are scheduled with family meals in mind, so it’s easier than with some of the crazy schedules you get in the U.S. Our kid started cooking quite young (and even in maternel did cooking at school) and now can se debrouiller well in the kitchen.
    We planted fruit trees, raspberries, straberries and lots of cheery tomatoes in the yard by the swingset so that from a young age, snacks were what one picked in the garden.

    • Hi, sadly although many activities are scheduled with meals in mind and not during lunch or dinner, that is not all the time, with five extremely sporty children, regular coaching sessions and being right in the middle of tennis match season, I cannot tell you how we are juggling lunch and dinner on an almost daily basis at the moment. Just today, we left at 1pm for a tournament that started at 1.45. However, as I am a firm believer that sport goes hand in hand with healthy eating, we have learnt to juggle rather well and it just takes a lot of planning! I so agree with snacks from the garden, can’t wait until the cherry tree starts producing in May, followed closely by the plums, then we move on to the vegetable garden and then grapes and figs, for seven months we all feast for free in the garden along with all our children’s friends who love coming over, it’s social and great fun! Susan x

  • Hi Susan
    Yup, the kitchen is my best place at home. It has always been. I still make all the recipes of my late mum, she was the greatest cook of all time. Cooking has never interested my daughter, though how hard I tried. Perhaps she will later when she gets her own home one day. Just like myself, I wasn’t much active in the kitchen when I lived with mum, but I learnt all her recipes. As I move on with life and had my own home, oh god, been the cook all along the way and my kitchen will always be my best place in the home. It’s been nice reading your from you today. Have a wonderful Sunday. Hugs to everybody in Charentes Maritime.
    Juli

    • Hi Juli, isn’t the kitchen just the best place in the home, I so agree with you. I have been out since 1pm today at a tennis tournament with our youngest near La Rochelle, we arrived home at 6, cold and tired and hungry and the smell of roast chicken in the oven was just oh so welcoming, just the best smell in the world! Let me know when you are heading over, we clearly have much to chat about! Hope you have had a lovely weekend, Susan x

      • I will let you know when am close to heading your way. I am coming there in two weeks’ time. but going to Limousin guess what, to meet with my childhood, teenager/young adult school friend. We have not seen each other for the past 17 years. I have travelled to France many times but have never been able to meet. Finally the meeting will be. oh god lots for her and me to talk about, all the gossips in the world hahahah lol. When am coming down to Poitou Charentes, will send you a message. Juli

  • Lovely post, and so true, both my boys cook and I think they now do most of the cooking in their new homes !! Its essential they know how and if they enjoy it thats great, I love to see them, I am so proud of a great job they do,
    ( I sent you an email the otherday, did you get it?) Have a good Sunday

    Brooke

    • Hi Brooke, no I didn’t get your email, I check them daily, so do please send again, not sure where it went! So happy to hear your boys cook, I look at my parents, my father had no idea how to cook ever, my Mother always does all of the cooking and yet a generation down the line, I would say at least with at least half of our friends it is the husband who cooks, I think it’s fantastic. Our son is nearly 14 and is finally also taking an interest in the kitchen, never sweet things, always savoury, most of all he just loves to eat anything straight from the garden but I will always encourage that too! Susan x

  • What great parents you are. Seriously, I totally agree with your belief in teaching your children to cook and eat well, not only the cooking but the purchasing of produce too. Brilliant! It’s such a different life here for my daughter and her family. She works in an office and there are no ‘local’ fresh produce markets. However, there are some Farm Shops and these have become very popular thank goodness. There are of course Farmers Markets, but they are not everywhere and only once a month. But you’ve inspired me to try and introduce my little grandsons to cooking and buying their food. Once the youngest starts school we will be having them to stay in the summer holidays so having time to cook with them will be fun and help pass the time! Thanks for bringing the idea to light! Have a good week ahead.

    • Hi Marian, I know it is not easy in so many places, that is one of the reasons we are so fortunate in France, having markets literally every day of the week somewhere nearby, even if the choice is limited in the winter months. Do get cooking with your grandsons. Be warned they’ll make such a mess but it really doesn’t matter, it’s all part of the fun. So long as you use organic eggs I have no problem in our children licking the spatula of raw cake mixture, it was one of the best parts of baking I remember as a child! They also love cracking eggs and even cooking a simple fried egg feels like a huge achievement to them, placed on a piece of toast with some chopped tomatoes and they have created an easy simple lunch all by themselves. I hope you have a lovely week too, Susan x

    • Hi James, yes I know, when we are old and grey and incapable of doing much maybe our children will cook the occasional meal for us!!! Seriously, they already love helping in the kitchen, it’s a great kitchen full of lots of yummy food cooked by so many chefs of all ages! Susan x

  • Another fabulous post Susan. My husband is the baker in the family…he is the one with the sweet tooth. He also bakes our bread…we even have a grinder for the wheat. He has taught his son how to bake bread. The pictures of different loaves are sent across the country for inspection. It really is one of the most important gifts that you can give your children. It is after all….the staff of life…

    Ali x

    • Hi Ali, how fantastic, emailing photos of loaves around the country, I remember at school grinding wheat and learning about different types of flour. I love experimenting with different flours in bread, my current favourite is spelt, in fact I use spelt flour in all my baking too, I find it gives a slightly nutty and far more wholesome flavour, so much so, the children’s friends have become quite besotted with my cakes, it seems I have quite a reputation, who knew the French would love English baking so much! It’s something that makes me smile on a regular basis!!! Susan x

  • The one thing I miss most about living in the UK and Europe is the regular access to local markets. I loved going to them when I was growing up..or the neighborhood baker, fishmonger or greengrocer. Food actually had flavor (as opposed to something like a supermarket tomato…). In the US, the farmer’s markets are probably the closest (but poor) equivalent. Depending where you live, they may be at some distance and only operate for once a week (or once a month) perhaps 4-5 months out of the year—and, again, depending where one lives, not necessarily offering lots of variety fruit and veg and would be rare to find any meat or fish at these types of markets. When my children were young I made all their baby food from scratch, made my own bread and never had a microwave for most of those years. Fortunately, all my adult children (3 boys, 1 girl) know how to cook, some more enthusiastically than others–some things they learned from me, some they learned from living halfway around the world by themselves as “mother necessity” is an able teacher:). Your children are fortunate, indeed, to live in a place with access to nearby sourced food and be able to engage with vendors who know their products and enjoy the interchange with customers. So very preferable to bloodless supermarkets run by “suits” and corporations.

    Love just the thought of Hetty’s sponge cake.

    • Hi Mary, I so agree with you about flavour, there is nothing worse than a chilled tasteless supermarket tomato, it has to be one of life’s great big let downs in the food world and I can see why children wouldn’t like tomatoes, but give them that sweet one from the garden, still warm from the sun and yum, I love to watch their faces! Hetty’s cakes are so simple, just five ingredients and so light and delicious, she’s quite a baker these days which at 10 is a good achievement! We don’t have a microwave, none of us feel the need for one, fast food for me always involves eggs, one way or another and whatever vegetables are in the garden or fridge! I think it’s the whole family meal thing that makes it all so appealing, food is not just to keep hunger at bay, food also means sitting down, chatting, hearing about each other’s day, it’s a time for everyone to come together, it’s a very integral part of our family life and even with our hectic schedule I will always somehow make time for our meal together even if it means sometimes we have to eat at odd times!!! Susan x

  • I have two kids that eat everything, and two kids who have a self-imposed restricted diet which is so agonising that we ended up at a psycologist. I love that your kids are so interested in food. I love fresh food and particularly a mediteranean style coastal diet too. Your attitude to food and the kids is wonderful, as is the fact that all of you contribute to making wonderful family meals, and that your daughter cooks for her uni friends. Wonderful heartening blog – Bon appetit!

    • Thanks Miranda, Isn’t it funny how siblings can all be so different with such different tastes. Ours all like different things, one loves meat, our eldest is a vegetarian, vegetables and eggs are the one thing we all agree on, which is quite a good starting point!!! Hope you have had a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • Great post, Susan. Your first paragraph sums up much of what is wrong with the world today, where we teach our children subjects in school that they will never use in life. If I had spent 10 years learning cooking instead of Latin, for for example, I would certainly offer the world, my family and my children more than I do now.

    • Hi Simon, maybe you would be a better cook but I seriously doubt you would offer your family or children more than ŷou do now, ten years of Latin has to be a fabulous base for so much knowledge of languages. I only managed Latin for three years, that was more than enough for me! Hope you have had a lovely weekend, Susan X

      • You’ve never seen me cook, though, Lily. I find the Italian recipes easy enough to understand though, for some reason.

    • Thank you so much, as you can probably tell this is a subject that I am quite passionate about, the importance of real food and the education of our children. So great to have you following and commenting, hope you have had a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! It’s a great post and one I wish the people of the USA would embrace. Love that your daughter at University cooks for herself and others. Here, in the US, there’s an unfortunate label, ‘the Freshman 15′ and it used to be ’10’ when you went off to college…and it mostly holds true. Sigh…

    • Hi Audrey, thank you so much, as you can probably tell it is a subject I am quite passionate about, I just know children given a choice actually love fresh fruit and vegetables. I think it’s not just in the US where freshmen gain weight, it’s a fairly universal thing sadly. I know there are some fabulous Americans who work so tirelessly trying to get the message across, Foodbabe and 100 Days of Real Food, to name two of my favourites. Have a lovely week, Susan x

  • I could not agree with you more! Food,cooking and nutrition is something that all kids need to learn about. There is nothing that irritates me more than someone saying they cannot cook! What? My theory is that if you can read you can cook, it might not work out, it might burn, it might not taste good but if you try you will perfect your cooking.

    These are beautiful photos!

    • I totally agree, if you can read you can cook, as you say if it all goes wrong, just try again, I’ve made plenty of disasters over the years! It’s also something great fun to do with children, it’s a great activity we can all do together and I am all for that! Susan x

  • Agree, agree, agree. And I love the picture of the two girls with Poochie on the alert, just in case something edible falls down.
    It looks like you keep cut herbs the way I do, in a glass of water, like flowers. I find they last days that way.

    • Hi Emm, oh yes, he’s there, waiting as you say, just in case, always alert, we have a very clean floor! And now of course Evie has learnt the same trick too so there are normally two of them watching carefully! I do keep herbs in a glass of water, they keep for days as you say and they also look rather pretty, a splash of colour on the counter. Have a great week, Susan x

  • The photography this week is beautiful! Wonderful colors, everything looks so fresh!
    Your two youngest girls remind me so much of my own little ones, they also love to have so much fun in the kitchen!

    • Hi Lily, thank you so much, we are lucky in that everything from the market is incredibly fresh and in season. Isn’t it just the best fun cooking with our children, I find it such a great activity, lots of giggles and special time together, what more can we ask for! Susan x

  • When I was growing up, helping out in the kitchen was one of my favorite things to do every evening. This post reminded me of that! The photos are lovely as usual!

    • Thank you Alyson, I remember cooking at home as a child, it was one of my favourite things to do, so much fun can be had, when I was a teenager I used to love cooking for my parents just as ours now love to cook for us. Let me know if you get to do any travelling around France before you leave, Susan x

  • A home economics teacher checking in! Actually I don’t teach anymore but did so for a very long time. You are so right….teaching children to love to cook for themselves and others is so important! And what better hobby to have than providing nutritious foods and understanding how important it is to good health. My boys are grown now and all 3 of them are chefs in their own homes! We have so many family bonding memories of being in the kitchen together!!
    Love your blog…have even bookmarked it as info I will need when I travel to France again!!!

    • Hi Janey, thank you so much, you are so right, so many happy memories are made in the kitchen. We still laugh at the events of one Christmas, 9 years ago, we were making homemade chocolates and painting the inside of petit fours cases with dark chocolate, the children were very small, the eldest was 10 and the youngest just a few months old, of course as is always the way, they started painting each other’s faces with chocolate; my whole point being the kitchen and food are fun and I think it builds a healthy relationship with food. Hope you get to travel to France again soon, and do come and visit the Charente Maritime, it’s looking quite spectacular in the spring sunshine this morning! Have a lovely week, Susan x

  • Hi Susan – Great post! I believe teaching your children to become self-sufficient is part of parenthood! My eldest is in college and she cooks all of her meals. One thing that was a bit difficult for me was to let them experiment in the kitchen. We have a tv show in the US called Chopped, where chefs are given baskets with mystery ingredients and have to make an appetizer, main and dessert. We have held our own version of Chopped with some amazing, creative results! Looking forward to your next post as always.

    • Hi Elaine, letting them experiment is always a bit nerve wracking, is it going to be edible?! Ooh what a great idea Chopped sounds. I shall definitely do that next time our eldest is home from University, we might work in teams of two as there are so many of us! But thank you, such a great idea and I had never heard of it, I’m planning it already! Hope you enjoy the rest of your week, Susan x

    • That’s because you are a professional with fantastic recipes! Whereas I am just more than happy whenever anyone makes afternoon goûter, or better still cooks a meal! Susan x

  • Well what to say?
    Cooking. I spent 60 years without having to.
    Absolutely no intrest.
    5 years ago I moved in with my mother- now going on 95.
    I didn’t have to.
    I just wanted a safe life for my mother.NO I AM NOT A SAINT.
    Had to start to cook 😦
    5 years later : I love to cook :)))
    I’m wondering: What else is there , that I don’t know about myself?
    late bloomer in Swedenl

  • I attended a pie baking class as a guest I owned a cooking school) and was amazed at how many young women (early 20’s) had never made a pie crust let alone how to roll the crust out. Guess that is why they were in the class!

    • I guess that is indeed why they were taking the class. But American’s love pies, I always think of it as the home of apple pies, pumpkin pies, I have eaten many fabulous pies in American homes. You have inspired me this morning. Our children are on two weeks spring break. Last night, I said to Hetty, our 11 year old who loves to cook, that I would teach her something different today, she’s been making endless cakes and cupcakes and I thought it was time for something new, but I hadn’t thought what. Now I know, this afternoon (rain is forecast!) so I am going to teach her how to make pastry from scratch, and then we will roll it out on the marble and make a filling of her choice. Thank you, I would never have thought of this without your comment this morning. Susan x

    • Thank you so much, it was fun to share this because I truly believe in the importance of getting children into the kitchen, cooking and understanding where their food comes from. Thanks for taking the time to comment Mollie. xx

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