A recipe for connection

Toyota Believe logoJudging by the empty shelves in baking aisles of supermarkets nationwide, heading to the kitchen was clearly part of our coping strategy when it came to dealing with lockdown. Collectively we ran out of flour, sugar, yeast, dates… and as shelves were replenished, little signs from supermarket management popped up asking us, very nicely, to please share and only buy one of each highly-prized pantry staple. Talk about unprecedented!

It’s not surprising that the lockdown found us in our kitchens. Kai provides comfort, but cooking and serving food is also a powerful form of connection – especially for whānau, and especially when grabbing some takeaways or meeting friends at our local café are off the menu.

Petra Bagust recently caught up with Nadia Lim and Naomi Toilalo, two amazing cooks in their own right who share a passion for simple but satisfying home cooking. These clever ladies served up a feast of practical tips to help families get the most out of meal times.

Take a generous serving of resourcefulness

We were certainly forced to be more resourceful during the lockdown. With no relief from takeaways, no special dinners at restaurants, and supermarket shopping being a military operation we learnt to use what we had. “I didn’t waste a thing,” recalls Nadia, who only went to the supermarket once during level 4. Once!

Resourcefulness in the kitchen is a great life skill to develop. It certainly helps to have a good stock of basic pantry staples and some key ingredients in the freezer, but it is also a mindset. Even small amounts of leftovers can have a tasty second-chance on a pizza or stirred through some pasta. It just takes some creativity and a bit of boldness.

“Creativity blossoms within boundaries,” observes Petra.

Add a dash of determination

How do we gain confidence in our cooking? Nadia has some solid advice:“Make a commitment. Get in the kitchen and try it. Just do it! I think that’s what the lockdown did – I mean, who normally makes their own bread? Everyone just buys it because we think ‘bread is a baker’s job, they’re specialists and it must be quite hard to make good bread’. But then we had to have a go at it ourselves and wow, we realised how easy it was. I think that will continue past lockdown.”

Naomi echoed this sentiment. “When the lockdown started, I started teaching people – whoever wanted to join in the kaupapa – how to make sourdough from scratch. I had all these people jumping on board the waka of ‘giving it a go’. That process was really fun to teach and I was just blown away by how excited everybody was with their loaves. It was such a great journey.”

Still, a lot of us face a some perceived hurdles when it comes to kitchen confidence. Naomi suggests choosing one or two recipes and practising those first until you master them. Within the recipes will be foundational techniques that will set you up for wider success and give you the confidence to branch out.

And a pinch of ‘whoops’

Everyone makes mistakes in the kitchen – even the seemingly unflappable Nadia Lim says she’s got a list of food fails longer than she can remember. It’s all about perspective. Mistakes teach us what not to do. There’s a learning curve in every kitchen failure. “That’s how I learnt to cook,” says Nadia, “I taught myself and the way that I learnt was through making mistakes.”

This is a great opportunity to help our kids understand that failing at something does not make you a failure. Kids can be especially hard on themselves when they think they ‘haven’t achieved’ an anticipated result. This can be tricky in the kitchen because a recipe usually boasts a pretty picture of something that looks delicious… but the fruit of your own efforts might be a different story. Hence the importance of helping our kids see failure as a generous teacher. Not to mention helping them appreciate the importance of carefully reading recipes and double-checking that all the ingredients have actually made it to the mixing bowl.

We also need to learn how to see the funny side of failures and flops, Nadia reminds us. We can take ourselves too seriously, but it helps to be able to laugh when things go wrong – in life in general, and especially in the kitchen.

Add some kids and stir up the learning

The learning is limitless in the kitchen, but cooking with kids is not for the faint-hearted. Preparing yourself mentally and being in the right headspace can help when navigating any ‘group activity’, says Naomi, who also suggests delegating the jobs age-appropriately, giving the easier and ‘tidier’ tasks to your sous chef.

Nadia’s own sous chef, four-year-old Bodhi, has been spotted on telly recently demonstrating impressive knife skills and proficiency in egg cracking.  “You can put cotton wool all around your kids but at some point they’re going to have to learn how to use a knife. I just figure that as long as he’s doing it in a safe and supervised way, why not give him a go.” 

Nadia also encourages parents to watch their language as the word ‘No’ can really dampen the experience. Time in the kitchen needs to be as positive as possible for our kids, if we want them to develop a joy for cooking. “Change up your language – instead of “No” it could be ‘How about we try it this way'” suggests Nadia.

And for the ‘mess averse’, because let’s be honest – splattered, sticky kitchens can be a recipe for stress, Nadia has some key advice: it’s all in the set-up.

  • Clear a large bench space – no phones, laptops or important paperwork within harm’s reach.
  • Organise your ingredients and equipment before you start cooking, so you’re not rushing around the kitchen creating more mess.
  • Read the recipe first and have a plan. It’s about thinking one step ahead. Figure out the kid-friendly tasks, give your kids certain jobs and then subtly take care of the trickier bits yourself.

The investment into teaching our kids about cooking is well worth it, and it’s remarkable how capable kids can quickly become with some practise (and patience!). Nadia’s son, inspirational Bodhi, can make his own scrambled eggs at age four. Petra reminds us that you actually really want your kids to make a mess and learn some kitchen skills, as down the track they’ll be able to make you dinner! “I’m hoping it will pay dividends in the future!” Nadia agrees.

Tried and tested

Absolute wins in Naomi’s kitchen: “We’ve been doing pizza parlours during lockdown”. Kids can spend a lot of time planning a menu of toppings, making the dough, taking orders and then preparing the pizzas. Kids of all ages can play a role – even tinies can sprinkle some grated cheese. Voila, a meal and a large chunk of time filled with fun and learning!

Nadia’s go-tos include her no-sugar banana bread, found on her website. It’s a simple recipe and her kids love helping her bake it.

And some final hacks to save money and time in the kitchen: “Cut the takeaways, for sure,” says Naomi, who also recommends sticking to your grocery budget while adapting your menu to the supermarket specials and produce that’s in season. Look for recipes that make your protein go further, like pasta sauces and pizza.

Nadia recommends cooking one thing that can then become multiple meals – a large chilli con carne, for example, that you can make a big batch of and freeze in portions. Then you can use it as a base for different meals – wraps, over rice, nachos, shepherds pie… Bon Appetit! Masterchef, but with minimal effort.

You can find Nadia’s Comfort Kitchen lockdown cooking series on TVNZ on Demand. You can find Naomi Toilalo on Instagram, whānaukai, where you can also check our her new project, Whānaukai: The Giving Series. Each week Naomi will show us how to bake a different recipe and then she’ll give the finished product to a lucky recipient nominated by a viewer.

Check out the full interview on our Facebook page, where you can catch up on our series of Live Events covering various topics relating to life in the lockdown.


You might like… 

Looking for more personalised strategies and solutions for your family? 

Our family coaches are still available during the lockdown and can meet with you online. We’ve also introduced a shorter 30-minute appointment type, to make things easier while you navigate family life with everyone at home.

Learn more