Teaching my children to cook an economical meal at home has always been one of my parenting objectives.
I think all these years the only thing that has spurred me on to learn to ‘cook anything with everything’ has been the desire to impart to them the skills of menu planning for daily meal preparation
After several years of cooking daily, my criteria for home-cooked meals is that it must be an easy nutritious satisfying meal where ingredients costs do not add up to breaking my weekly household allowance for food!
This recent December school holidays I decided to start teaching my younger daughter, M, the ropes.
I felt gratified I had been conscientiously gathering the recipes all this time to pass on to them once they started to cook.
So on New Year’s Eve 2012, I planned a simple lunch menu for M, then 12 years old, to cook by herself on the following day, which was New Year’s Day 2013. I planned to ‘disappear’ from the house that day and go shopping with my elder daughter.
I had four packs of instant noodles in the pantry. As always, I used ingredients from the pantry to plan a dish. I pondered on how to make the instant noodles more satisfying and nutritious and the meal preparation an easy one!
In the recesses of my mind, I remembered my mum storing away some sliced(cooked) pork, fishcake, green leafy vegetables and shrimp in the fridge for my brother(during secondary school) before she left for work. She knew my brother would cook his usual instant noodles after school and pop an egg in but she wanted him to eat a more ‘nutritious ‘ meal and hence she made an effort to prepare ‘extra ingredients’ for him to add to his noodles.
I felt this menu plan was feasible as well as economical – I could always use any ingredients left over to whip up another different dish the following day.
I remembered seeing my husband drooling over some Chinese sausages lying on the counter a week ago.
I am not sure where this comes from but cooking Chinese sausages as part of a daily meal does not resonate with me as a frugal homemaker.
Perhaps I absorbed this attitude from my grandmother – she was always very thrifty and she considered Chinese sausages as a delicacy especially to be cooked only during Chinese New Year reunion dinners or special occasions when it was someone’s birthday!
Anyhow, I decided to steam some to make the lunch that M was going to prepare exciting and also to keep my husband upbeat on the first day of the new year :))
On New Year’s day, I woke up earlier to prepare the food. It was minimal preparation, the way I liked it! No point planning an elaborate meal but not having enough time nor energy to execute it!
The ingredient preparation, done leisurely, took less than an hour. I sliced the pork, lightly salted it, left it for 10 minutes and then proceeded to cook it in boiling water. After that, I sliced the fishcake, (see pic), thawed the frozen shrimp in some hot water just enough to separate it and thereafter cut up the green leafy vegetables (‘cai xin’).
When my thirteen- year- old finally woke up, I informed her that a single portion (for one person)would mean 10 to 15 pieces of each cooked ingredient and 75 to 100 g of uncooked vegetable (see the picture of trusted scale)
Details like that matter to a child just starting out to cook – it boosts their confidence and increases their chances of producing a successful dish.
After that, I informed her to cook the noodles the same way.
Once the noodles were cooked and removed to a serving bowl, she would then ‘throw in’ all the ingredients into the noodle stock (children like this part -it sounds easy and it is an easy thing to do! )
After two minutes (she would use our trusty timer to time herself) she could off the fire and scoop out all the ingredients.
I left the house shortly after that, feeling at ease she would prepare the meal successfully and my husband would not, to express it dramatically, ‘starve to death’ on New Year’s Day.
This was not M’s foray into the kitchen as I had taught her how to cook some dishes during the recent holidays. However, it would be the first time she would be cooking an entire meal on her own!
Anyhow, I remembered when I was in the Ladies department of a local departmental store, I received a WhatsApp photo- M had sent me a picture of the lunch she had prepared on her own – she was pleased that she had ‘fed’ Daddy and her daddy was delighted that he did not need to ‘go out’ and buy food on a public holiday :))
The meal I had ‘taught’ M to prepare may not require much ‘skill’ but the whole experience is everything to her. For a child, they feel proud and happy that they have cooked something all by themselves without the help of Mummy or Daddy and this leaves a significant impression in their minds and hearts.
Cooking, budgeting (money management) and meal planning are all significant life skills. It is good that we can teach these to our children at home!