Far Apart but Cooking Together

Editor’s note:

In the JGN Facebook group, member Anne Stein posted photos of her family baking pretzels together on Zoom. Here Anne shares tips for fun long-distance cooking with your own grandchildren.

It all started with Covid. I missed seeing my grandkids, so my daughters, the grandkids (who range in age from three to adult), and I began cooking together on Zoom every Sunday afternoon. We are now in our third season of cooking together online.

It’s a great way to connect as we produce something we all enjoy eating. We choose recipes that have a job for everyone. Family cooking has allowed us to bring the grandchildren in our multifaith family into our Jewish traditions. And, above all, we know we will have lasting memories, many of which we capture in screenshots. 

Here are nine tips for successfully cooking together with your grandchildren, even when you’re physically distant.

1. Keep it short.

Select short recipes. We’ve made hamantaschen, soft pretzels, Mandelbrot, banana bread, crepes, bagels, assorted cookies, and several kinds of soup. We try to complete each recipe within an hour. Challah and other more complicated recipes are the hardest to do on Zoom. Sometimes we’ll stop to let dough rise and get back on Zoom later for the next step. If everyone wants to talk, we just stay on and schmooze until our dough is ready. It’s a great way to catch up with each other.

2. Follow the kids’ lead.

Give children control whenever possible. Last year, my seven-year-old great-grandson really wanted to make M&M cookies, so we did. When my fifteen-year-old granddaughter tried chicken tortilla soup at a restaurant and wanted to make it at home, that’s what we made. And when we finished our matzah balls, one grandchild suggested making Oreo balls next and even supplied the recipe.

3. Time it right.

Winter is best for cooking; kids want to be outdoors in warmer weather. Cooking around the holidays also works well. We’ve found that, for us, Sunday afternoons fit best into everyone’s schedule.

4. Choose Shabbat and Jewish holiday fare.

Naturally, we made hamantaschen for Purim (something we plan to do every year), matzah ball soup for Rosh Hashanah (we’ll do it again for Passover), and challah and mandelbrot (like biscotti) for Shabbat. One weekend we made the chicken soup on Saturday and the matzah balls on Sunday. 

5. Allow time for planning and buying ingredients.

After discussing what we want to make, I look for a recipe, then send it to the adults so they can buy the ingredients. I try to share the recipe by midweek, so everybody has time to shop.

6. Take special dietary needs into account.

When we made matzah ball soup, the fifteen-year-old made gluten-free matzah balls so her father could enjoy them, and regular matzah balls for the rest of the family. Next, we may make gluten-free chocolate cookies for my son-in-law.

7. Build talk time into cooking.

While waiting for water to boil, chocolate to melt, or pretzel dough to rise, encourage grandchildren to describe their latest school project or share your own family stories with them. You might describe, for example, a cooking tip or food style from your own parents or grandparents.

8. Take kids’ preferences into account.

Teens can help set up Zoom or FaceTime, and text everybody when it’s time to get on. Some grandchildren don’t want to cook with their parents. Let them decide how much they want to participate and whether they want to do so with their parents or on their own; these decisions help give kids independence and agency. You’ll still need buy-in from their parents for scheduling, shopping, setup, and cleanup. Even the youngest grandchildren can pour or stir ingredients. At the end, everybody holds up to the screen what they’ve made.

9. Make it silly and fun.

Somebody always has a good story to tell, or we often tease each other about our funny- looking food — always in a good-natured way! The cutest was when the seven-year-old tried to teach the fifteen-year-old how to twist the soft pretzel dough. He couldn’t understand why she was having such a hard time figuring it out.

Happy cooking!

Anne Stein was Director of Education at Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard, Illinois, for twenty-four years, until she retired in 2015. She has been married to Harvey for 57 years. They have two daughters, six grandkids, and two great-grandkids. Anne loves pickleball, water aerobics, word games, and card games. She is also a mentor through the iCenter in Chicago.

Photographic Credits
Banner photograph by Stephanie Fink
All other photographs by Anne Stein