Samantha Barnes is a local mom, chef, and culinary instructor who knows how to get kids interested and engaged in the kitchen. In fact, she’s built an entire business around it with her first venture, Kitchen Kid. Her newest project is Raddish, a beautifully designed meal kit that looks like a fun craft kit but involves the stuff what will actually become dinner (useful!), and draws from her extensive experience designing and operating Kitchen Kid’s culinary classes, camps, and group cooking parties. It’s delivered monthly, with a grocery list emailed ahead of time so parents can stock up and prepare ingredients for when the recipes and activities arrive. (I’ve also written about Samantha’s ventures in stories elsewhere.) Now with two very young kids of her own, Samantha is even more adept at helping other parents put into direct practice what she’s been teaching for years.
How many kids do you have, and how old are they?
My daughter is almost 4, and my little guy is “not so little” any more, at 20 months.
Although every child is different, generally speaking, at what age do you think it’s best and most realistic to get kids involved in the kitchen?
I really think 3 is a great age to get your kids excited about cooking and preparing food. 3-year-olds can wash veggies, sort ingredients, help you measure liquid ingredients, scoop dry ingredients, scissor-cut herbs, chop apples, and so much more. Even before 3, kids are curious about how things look and smell and feel. As long as you make the time to let your little chefs explore, (read: not when you are rushing to get dinner ready on a busy night), I really think they are never too little to be a part of food preparation. When my daughter was an infant, I cooked with her in a sling, and described every smell and taste.
But don’t expect too much – at 20 months, my son does a lot more eating and rearranging than anything else. But, he absolutely insists on being part of the action with this big sister. (The FunPod from Luca and Company makes it totally possible!) Of course, the older the child is the more you can expect them to do. Years ago I taught a 5-year-old who could mix batter like a pro and adored Ina Garten.
I love teaching cooking to kids through our after-school enrichment classes, birthday parties, and summer camps. For a while I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to scale Kitchen Kid so I could empower kids to cook beyond Los Angeles. Raddish allows me to do just that. We adapt Kitchen Kid’s techniques, engaging lessons, and delightful recipes and package them for home kitchens anywhere.
How can Raddish help overwhelmed parents prepare food more healthfully and efficiently at home?
For me, the kitchen is the logical place to spend meaningful, “quality” time with my kids. We all have to eat – and we know it’s cheaper and healthier when we cook at home – so why not cook and eat together? Through Raddish’s beautifully illustrated recipe guides, parents and kids together can follow simple, delicious, nutritious recipes step-by-step. We even email the shopping list in advance so busy parents are ready to go when their box arrives.
I’m a working mom, and totally get that involving my kids in every recipe every day is just not always practical or efficient. But even on busy nights I take a few extra minutes so my daughter can help. Tonight, after the rest of dinner was ready, I called her in to tear lettuce for the salad and make a quick dressing.
Sure, it probably added 5 minutes to my dinner prep, but was well worth it. She delighted in the magic of seeing oil and vinegar emulsify (science), tasted the tartness of the balsamic while devouring cucumbers (palate / nutrition), and counted the Romaine leaves – I asked her to tear each into 4 pieces (math).
Raddish boxes are designed to teach skills and create a framework for cooking with kids, so eventually empowering your kids make the salad becomes second nature, and not a “make work for mom” chore.
If kids aren’t interested in cooking (I have one who LOVES to pitch in, and one who couldn’t care less), do you have any other tips for how parents might get them involved in the kitchen or to engage with food in a positive way, other than just eating?
It is definitely true: kids who help prepare food are much more likely to eat what they’ve made. But I think it goes beyond actually cooking – and just getting kids involved with the whole process of mealtime.” I wonder – does your child like doing the dishes? (Kids LOVE playing with that soapy water!) Will he/she play waiter and take orders and set the table? Or clear the plates? How about a kitchen and fridge scavenger hunt to find all the ingredients? (Or better – take the hunt to the grocery store.)
If all that fails, open up your kitchen while you cook and just let him or her read a book, build Legos, do homework, or for younger kids, sort trinkets in muffin tins. Keep them present to observe the sights, smells, and tastes of the kitchen, and maybe one day they’ll jump in.
How has your attitude towards kids and cooking changed since you’ve had your own children?
Yes, cooking with kids can take more time and make more mess – but now that I cook with my own kids I am even a bigger believer that both are worth it! I definitely understand the weeknight dinner rush! So I bought a crock-pot — the 15 minutes it takes to prep dinner in the morning saves at least an hour after work!
I was really moved by Karen Le Billon’s book, French Kids Eat Everything. After that, I thought beyond what my kids were eating and carefully considered when and how and where. (I promptly stopped giving snacks at Target during a meltdown.)
Where do you like to eat out as a family?
We don’t eat out too often, but gravitate towards fun and active restaurants. My kids looooove tacos, so Wahoo’s is always a win. We also like El Sombrero in Manhattan Beach, too. We go “out” to Whole Foods El Segundo and Mitsuwa Marketplace. Alejo’s in Westchester was where “FDNO — Family Dinner Night Out” was coined with our dear friends. (Nothing says chaos like 4 adults and 4 kids under 4 out to dinner – thank goodness for their vino della casa!) And tiny, authentic sushi spots are a favorite, too. We like Sushi Anza in Torrance.
How do you keep your kids occupied if they get antsy in restaurants?
My kids? Antsy? This afternoon my son wouldn’t stop demanding water at Good Stuff in Hermosa Beach. It went something like this, over and over:
“The waitress went to get water.”
“She will be right back with your water.”
Thankfully we were outside so the disturbance level wasn’t as bad as it could be. But by the end of lunch we had definitely employed all the necessary “dining out with a toddler” tactics: walk around and smile at every other table, play with my iPhone, color, and stretch the silly putty I carry in my bag. Oh, and dessert, preferably ice cream. That buys you at least another 10 minutes of adult conversation.