Teaching your children how to cook is such an important life skill to pass on. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a master chef, you can still teach the basics to your children.
Of course young children need constant supervision, but when they show an interest in cooking as little ones, encourage their interest by letting them “help” you as much as possible. Tweens and teens are definitely able to handle preparing and cooking a meal—just make sure you give them simple recipes that won’t overwhelm them.
One of the greatest things about encouraging your children to do some cooking, is they learn what real food is. Anybody can open up a can of soup and heat it in the microwave.
But chopping up vegetables and making a vegetable soup is not much more difficult and tastes infinitely better. In fact, once you taste homemade soup of any kind, you will have a tough time eating the canned versions.
Opening a jar of marinara sauce or spaghetti sauce is quick, but making the homemade version only takes a bit more time and is so much tastier. In addition, the homemade kind has half the amount of sodium as the store-bought variety — and of course doesn’t have all sorts of additives and preservatives inside.
You can find quality marinara and spaghetti sauces at the grocery stores now, but don’t even get me started on their price tags! Just make your own! Once you make it yourself a few times, you will marvel that you ever bought the sauce — in addition, it freezes beautifully.
Speaking of sodium, teaching your children to cook is the perfect time to teach them how to read ingredient labels. A good rule of thumb when it comes to ingredients is simple: If you cannot pronounce an ingredient, you don’t want to consume it. Also, look for ingredient lists that have no more than four or five ingredients. For example, the best kind of peanut butter has one ingredient: peanuts. The best type of applesauce has one ingredient: apples. You get the idea.
So, where to start? Begin by making a cooking-lesson plan of action. When you make your weekly meal plan, choose days when the dinner hour isn’t super busy — a night when nobody has extracurricular activities, for example. Also, choose a meal you know your child loves — spaghetti and meatballs is a good one — or cheeseburgers and roasted potatoes.
For beginner cooks, it is better to wait on dishes that have multiple steps — lasagna is a family favorite and is not difficult to make, but it does take lots of prep steps and that might frustrate someone new to the kitchen.
Teach your beginner cook about the importance of cleanliness — washing hands frequently, sanitizing kitchen surfaces often, and being careful about cross contamination. This is also a great time to teach your new cook how to clean-as-you-go. Nobody loves cleaning up, but when you cook, cleaning is just part of the job.
Once your child has helped cook a handful of meals with your assistance, they are quite possibly ready to fly solo. Just make sure the dish they are going to cook is something you think they can handle.
If your middle schooler is going to be cooking, consider buying pre-cut vegetables or cut them yourself to avoid potential injury. Even for older children, make sure they have been taught how to properly use a knife.
If possible, take your new cook grocery shopping with you. This is a great way to teach your child about choosing the freshest produce, comparing labels, learning about different cuts of meat, etc. It is also a terrific way to teach children about budgeting — we all have to eat and for many households, the food budget is among the biggest expense.
Pay attention to what sorts of things your child seems to enjoy cooking the most. For example, if your child seems to enjoy baking, try incorporating savory dishes that emphasize baking — pot pie, quiche, frittatas, and other casseroles are good choices for a young baker. Other children, particularly athletic ones, might want to focus on protein packed meals — lean meats and vegetables and salads are sure to please.
Once you feel comfortable with your child’s cooking skills, assign them a night each week to cook dinner. Of course if they enjoy this new responsibility and want to cook more than that, certainly take them up on that.
Learning how to cook is such a great skill to teach your children. Cooking encourages them to eat real food and limit eating out and eating fast food. Cooking is also an empowering skill to learn, giving your child a feeling of independence.
There is also something bonding about cooking with loved ones. Please let me know how your cooking lessons go with your children.
Adlen Robinson is an award winning columnist and author of “Organic Food and Kitchen Matters.” You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.