Elizabeth and Thomas Italia wash and peel vegetables for a family dinner. EmmaLee Italia photo

Elizabeth and Thomas Italia wash and peel vegetables for a family dinner. EmmaLee Italia photo

By EmmaLee Italia | Contributing Editor

Some of my earliest childhood memories include me sitting in a high-backed kitchen chair, legs dangling, reading aloud cookie recipes to my mother as she added ingredients to her stand mixer. They may have been recipes she knew by heart, but that didn’t matter; it was my mom’s way of indulging my four-year-old desire to “help,” which was so often followed by the desire to “sample.” There will never be a more delicious experience for me than a fresh, generously-cut slice of homemade bread.

Our family kitchen was always a hotbed of activity. Rare were the days when something wasn’t baking, boiling, simmering, pickling or canning, with many of the ingredients coming straight from our backyard garden or my grandparents’ farm.

A study published in December 2014 on ScienceDirect.com for the American Journal for Preventative Medicine found that “greater amount of time spent on home food preparation was associated with indicators of higher diet quality, including significantly more frequent intake of vegetables, salads, fruits and fruit juices. Spending less than one hour per day on food preparation was associated with significantly more money spent on food away from home.”

Hmm, healthier ingredients and less money. Seems like grandmothers cooking in their home kitchens were onto something.

My mother had a background in 4-H home economics as well as some culinary training, which she began to impart to me when I entered fourth grade. Armed with my own 4-H Foods program and with her assistance, I began learning to prepare foods from scratch. The food itself, however, was not as important as the handing down of skills from mother to daughter, and the time we spent together mastering various recipes and conversing.

The love of food preparation has stayed with me and continues to permeate our family life. Our children Elizabeth, 12, and Thomas, 9, enjoy learning to use kitchen tools and assist where they can. There’s nothing like kneading bread dough or turning the crank on an apple corer-peeler-slicer for preschool-aged cooks, and learning to use measuring spoons and cups was a ready-made math lesson. And while they haven’t always followed the “if they grow it or cook it, they’ll eat it” rule, their tastes have expanded surprisingly over the years. Our special family feasts will find them alongside me making maki sushi rolls, apple pie, carnitas or panna cotta.

Time spent in their grandmothers’ kitchens, too, has contributed to their love of the culinary. When preparing a special appetizer or dessert for the holidays, the grandparents and kids alike dive into the mixing and assembly that requires all hands on deck (particularly when you’re piecing together spiedini).

A quick Google search confirms the widely-held belief: cooking with your children is beneficial in myriad ways, for everyone involved. Aside from measuring and mixing skills, learning how tools work and what ingredients contribute to a dish, the experience itself is creative and bonding. Cooking is a way to talk about healthy ingredients, and learning a new skill and getting the instant feedback from a finished dish builds children’s self esteem. The shared activity of making a meal provides a relaxed atmosphere from which conversations can bloom.

And perhaps most importantly, preparing a meal together doesn’t have to be the height of French cuisine; it’s the time together and creation of memories that counts the most.