Family life

How I accidentally got my daughter to help in the kitchen

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk's little garden encouraged her to get messy in healthy ways with her daughter.

growing-food-anna

Anna says goodbye to her little garden for the winter. Photo: Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

My five-year-old daughter Anna and I have done a lot of gardening this year—we actually just put our little garden to bed for the winter. We’ve grown food together since she was born—a couple of summers in a big backyard, once in a container garden and this year in a mini plot at a nearby community space. Despite growing up in the suburbs where you were lucky if the grass was sod and not synthetic, I really took to gardening as an adult. I’ve been lucky to have lived in a number of apartments in Toronto with backyards where I could grow my own food.

The New York Times’ Motherlode blog has an ongoing series I enjoy called The Picky Eater Project which believes spending more time around food—including shopping and cooking—makes kids more likely to try it. I’ve written before about how Anna is the complete opposite of a picky eater, so I’ll admit getting her to taste something new isn’t usually a challenge. However, I wanted her as involved in the process as possible. As it happens, Anna is usually with me when I go grocery shopping—mostly a by-product of single parenting. She also helps out in the kitchen and—here’s the best part—she’s actually quite helpful. When she was about three years old, she’d “help” because it was easier to have her in the kitchen while I was cooking. She became disinterested for awhile, and was more invested in watching Arthur videos while I cooked, but in the last few months she’s returned to helping out with meal prep. She grates cheese, washes veggies and brushes oil on them, and distributes ingredients over nachos and pizzas.

I’m glad I took up this hobby before Anna was born, as it’s been a part of her life from the very beginning. It’s encouraged her to get messy in healthy ways and, more importantly, provided us a reason to get messy together. It’s lessened her aversion to worms and other insects and it’s a physical activity we can do together that my body can handle (I live with chronic pain). It’s also an opportunity for us to make time for nature in our busy city life. She’s learned so much about where herbs and vegetables come from, is invested in growing her own food and actively takes part in harvesting and prepping it.

Cleaning up our garden for the year feels like closing shop on one of the activities I could rely on as a thing Anna and I did together and both enjoyed. I’m grateful I can channel this into more time in the kitchen together over the coming winter months. Anna went from arguing that she only wanted to plant flowers, to having classmates come to visit the garden after school. She took them on little tours, pointing out specific vegetables and proudly giving them kale to take home afterwards. My hope is that it’s an activity and passion that we’ll both keep all year round.

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a five-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.

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