How not to kill your kid in the kitchen

This essay is part of Motherwell’s new Parenting and Food column.


By Debra Arbit 

Have you ever watched a five-year-old pour a package of cooked green beans into a bowl? I have. Let me tell you, it nearly killed me…and her. I’m quite sure that the inventor of the “steam-in-the-bag” veggies had no idea just how many painstaking steps it takes to execute this fridge-to-table maneuver.

Note to the reader: This article is about green beans. Not haricot vert or even toasted slivered almond topped beans. Just plain, steamed green beans. If you are looking for culinary inspiration, you may want to look elsewhere. If you are looking for ways to not kill your kids in the kitchen, this article may be for you.

Let me back up. Over the holidays I read a blog about how watching an episode of Top Chef Junior had inspired some suburban mom in northern California to let her children take a more active role in the kitchen. She warned that the first year was messy, with broken egg shells on the island and scattered flour on her bar stools, but now she had a pre-teen in her house who could successfully cook her three squares a day. 

I was convinced. This would be my new year’s resolution: let my five, four and two-year-olds take a more active role in the kitchen. As someone who loves both cooking and eating more than the average person, I was made for this. My kids were going to be chefs. By this time next year, they’d be cooking for me.

STEP ONE: The Beans

I assign my five-year-old the task and tell her that she will be exclusively in charge of getting this done from start to end. Are you aware of the fact that children are born with literally zero knowledge of how to do things without explicit instructions? I mean none. I told her to take a fork to stab the bag for venting. She held the utensil in her hand horizontally, parallel to the bag, poked at it until it fell to the floor. It took everything in me not to yank the fork out of her hand but then I refocused the goal. “In one short year, she’ll be cooking for me,” I repeated to myself. After a few more awkward tries, she did manage to make four small holes in the plastic. Hallelujah. 

STEP TWO: The Bowl

Grab a microwave safe bowl. Why oh why do I keep these in the upper cabinets of my kitchen? As a stubborn…I mean, independent little person, my daughter insisted upon getting the bowl herself. Which I suppose is what I wanted her to do but it didn’t make it easier to watch. I cringed as she dragged our wooden step stool across our tile floor which makes the sound of one thousand kindergartners pushing in their chairs before recess, climbed up and reached for a bowl on her tip toes nearly taking the entire stack of 16 with it crashing. By some miracle of the culinary gods, only one bowl came down and all in one piece. 


“Ok. Now put the bag of green beans in the bowl,” I tried to tell her with zero tone of annoyance. So far I think it was working. It was then I remembered that my five-year-old can’t read. Well, she can read about 12 sight words but sadly “This Side Up” are none of those words. 

“Flip it over,” I said lightly. You’d think there was only one way to flip a flattish bag of beans over in a microwaveable bowl. Deep breaths. It had been 12 minutes since we started this process. I can do this, I told myself. 

STEP FOUR: The Buttons

“Do I get to put it in the microwave now and press the buttons?” she asked. What is it about kids and button pressing? I mean, we had just come back from spending two weeks in a hotel where about 65% of our vacation was spent negotiating who would press the elevator buttons.

Anyway, I digress. 

“Yes. Put it in and press four, zero, zero.” Her dimpled fingers started pressing buttons. Four. Yes. Zero. Yup. Zero. You got this. And…another zero. Damn. Microwaving fresh green beans for 40 minutes is probably a terrible idea. 

“Oops!” she says so adorably I can’t even be annoyed. (LIES: I was very annoyed) I painstakingly walk her through how to clear the screen and start over. The microwave starts. The circular glass turn-top starts rotating. My five-year-old crouches right in front of the door to watch as her culinary masterpiece takes form.

“Don’t sit in front of the microwave,” I remind her. “Why Mama?” At this point, I realize I  am basing this instruction on 1980s science that by watching a microwave we would invariably get a brain tumor or our future children would have a third nipple or worse. I’m quite certain that microwaves have probably been improved to the level that they don’t automatically alter your DNA by watching the spinning bag of veggies but I’m not willing to take a chance. “Because it’s bad for you.” Luckily that answer was enough to satisfy her. I make a note to research this microwave-inducing cancerous third nipple theory at a later date. 

Four minutes go by. And by four minutes, I mean 29 minutes since we had started the marathon-green-bean-making experience. The triple beep rings out like a glorious trumpet. She is one step closer to presenting her beautiful side dish for the family to enjoy.

STEP FIVE: The Big Reveal

She opens the microwave door to reveal the steaming bag and I realize, I’m going to have to teach her how to use hot mitts. The look on her face when I tell her she gets to wear the silicon black mitt looks like those YouTube videos of kids who are awoken by the parents with the news they are going to Disney or getting a new puppy. She. Is. Pumped.

She slips on the mitts, which reach past her elbow and nearly to her armpit. I am again reminded of her smallness. I can hardly believe that I created a human being with my own body who now has the ability to wear hot mitts.

She fumbles into the microwave and slowly lifts the microwave bowl of green beans onto the counter. Huge win. I hand her scissors to cut the bag open which she actually did with little effort (thank you, preschool) and then proceeds to pour the green beans into a bowl.

This brings us back to the beginning of our tale. Have you ever watched a five-year-old pour a package of cooked green beans into a bowl? If you haven’t, I’d highly recommend it. They will truly be the most delicious side dish you will ever eat.

Next up: cracking eggs. #prayforme

Debra is a 39-year-old woman who is a sucker for a goal. When she’s not running her business or wiping peanut butter off one of her three kid’s faces, she loves to write and feed people to the point of bursting.

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