Thursday, October 15, 2009

Teaching Children To Cook

Do you have children? If so, you probably have heard the comment, "Mom, can I cook with you?". We are usually reluctant because we know that is will take extra time and create more of a mess. Really, most of us just want to get in there and get the job done.

If we do opt to teach our kids some skills in the kitchen, I fear it is more along the lines of slice and bake cookies, mixing up a box of mash potatoes, or microwaving a packaged dinner. No? Okay, perhaps I'm a bit cynical when it comes to this stuff. Honestly, I can only remember that I had made cookies before going off to college and getting married. And we ate at home a lot!

If you want your child to learn to cook from scratch, start by having them work along side with you. Most of my girls started with things like peeling carrots or potatoes, stirring, and a bit of measuring. Then they would work up to completing a couple of steps in a recipe while I looked on. When I noticed their coordination skills were fairly good, I allowed them to use a knife under supervision. This depends on the child. One of mine couldn't be trusted with a knife until she was nearly 12! Another is using one at 7 (however, I am VERY watchful and I do not allow her to cut some items that would be too risky).

They really get excited when they make the meal themselves - well, when they make 80% of it anyway... which is really an accomplishment and understandable that they feel so proud. We always make a big deal about it at the table and comment on how good it tastes. Here are a few shots of Moira's first meal on her own, Split Pea Soup:

I found this great cookbook (Look and Cook by Tina Davis) for beginners that has real recipes like moms make; not the cutesy stuff that are just fun foods and mostly assembling pre-made items. I fell in love with it the second I saw it and purchased it for a Christmas gift a couple of years ago. It certainly doesn't hurt that she has added plenty of vintage charm and a couple of stories about herself! Filled with basic recipes, everything is from scratch including pudding, macaroni and cheese, pie crusts, etc. It doesn't have a ton of recipes, but by the time your child makes most of these, they will be ready for a regular cookbook anyway. (One exception that had a can of cream of mushroom soup was the Tuna Casserole recipe).

Here's a great website for kids that like to cook:

Need some additional tips:

1. Allow for extra time. Usually about 1/2 an hour is sufficient.
2. Remind them to always wash their hands before beginning and often during preparation.
3. Teach them how to clean as they go. I usually like to start a sink of soapy water as I begin.
4. Instruct them in safety issues: stove, knives, steam, etc. As they get older and work more independently in the kitchen, they need to be aware of cross contamination of items such as chicken.
5. Talk a lot about what you are doing and why as you work. They won't remember all of it the first time, but if you make it a habit to cook with your children often, then they will begin to own these principles themselves.
6. Discuss nutritional values of various foods. This will help them make good choices for life as they get older. I've noticed that my oldest really appreciated this later in her teens!

The results of all this love and good cooking? Foodies for life, great cooks, happy future spouses, and a ton of great memories! Now that's an investment worth making.


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