Teaching Kids to Cook

A food writer friend of mind has been tweeting lately that she’s giving her college-aged daughter a cooking “crash course” as she moves into her first apartment.  And that made me wonder how do people teach their kids to cook?  Do you have them stand beside you on a regular basis, where they observe and take it in?  Do you agree on a dish or two that you will make together?  Do you have them plan meals?  At what age do you let them do their own thing in the kitchen?

I’ve got four children, two boys and two girls.  The girls are 15 and 9 (soon to be 10), and the boys are 16 and 11.  My 9 year old daughter is a baking machine, constantly making cookies, muffins, and the occasional loaf of bread.  She doesn’t do anything overly fancy, but it’s almost always tasty.  She has not, however, done much on the range.

My 16 year old son can make a few things.  He knows how to poach an egg.   He can make a solid, classic alfredo sauce. Oh, and a grilled cheese, too.  But that’s about the extent of his repetoire.

My 15 and 11 year olds, however, don’t cook that much.  My 15 year old daughter can make pasta.  That’s her specialty.  Her only specialty.  My younger son doesn’t really cook at all.

I wonder why my kids don’t cook more often.  Is it because they view me as the cook, where I control the process too much?  Do they have any desire to learn?  Am I too impatient with them?

I want my kids to know how to make some basic dishes by the time they go off to college, and right now, I’ve realized that I haven’t been doing a good job of teaching.  Time for that to change.

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10 Responses to Teaching Kids to Cook

  1. Alan says:

    Good post. Bourdain has an interesting chapter in his new book about this very topic, and whether or not part of our education at school should be to learn some basic knife skills, how to fabricate a chicken, a fish, etc, how to cook an egg and to pick a few dishes that you can make reasonably well.

    As for our home, even at a meager 14 months, Nate is much more willing to try something new if he’s been a part of the process – which means I hold him while I’m cooking and he gets to observe from a safe vantage point what’s going on. Hell, one of the few words in his slowly expanding vocabulary is “cook”. As soon as his motor skills and coordination allow, he’ll be joining me with a step stool.

  2. rkmccord says:

    I’m hurt, I cook well thank you.

  3. Hayden Tompkins says:

    “I wonder why my kids don’t cook more often.” Ok, this totally sent me into giggles. If you were my dad and loved to cook, I would totally stay out of the kitchen in the hopes that you would make something tasty!

    @rkmccord Well played!

  4. Leslie Kelly says:

    So happy to hear you’re inspired!

    Believe me, I have tried to get Baby Girl excited about cooking her entire life. She started out a super picky eater. Was a vegetarian until she had her first rib in Memphis!!

    I want to give her some survival skills and hope that she’ll eventually be curious enough to learn more. But, as much as it might pain us to admit, Dean, some people just don’t like to cook!

    Thank goodness she outgrew the picky years and now loves to eat!

  5. Caroline Matsen Simpson says:

    I’d like to cook with my parents but I have a bath at 6:30 and then fall asleep with a bottle (not hooch) around 7 and P&M usually don’t turn on the oven till then (or at least I surmise this by the slight increase in temperature in my room). Hopefully I can pick up some pointers next sunday, unless I conk out.

  6. MB says:

    My oldest could care less and has managed to secure a roommate at college that knows how to cook. The youngest thought is a cooking machine and always wants to be involved in the kitchen. She will even help with the dishes and setting the table *gasp*. I must confess that I was more like the oldest for a long time. I think it was because my mother was an excellent southern cook and I just stayed out of her way. Thank goodness for Frugal Gourmet, Julia and Justin Wilson – those 3 made me interested in new foods and learning how to cook.

  7. Gail says:

    I have one word…casseroles. Everyone needs to learn the basics of making a good casserole. It will teach them to experiment and if they are short on money, as most young people are, they are great on the pocketbook. They also are great for leftovers. My Mom is a great casserole maker and that taught me how to get along when I first went out on my own.

  8. VaNC says:

    Well, making dinner is often a family event, as any thing that happens in our house is….kids have chores, you know. In our house, it is a rite of passage to be trusted with the “sharp knives”, so the kids aim to be considered good enough to do that….and not have to be relegated to tasks like “grating the cheese”. While doing this, though, we give mini-lessons about certain skills, like watching how things cook in pans (eggs, meat, etc.) so that they learn how things work. But you have to be prepared (and have enough time) to address things like badly cracked eggs.

    This summer, as I have mentioned, each kids had to learn to cook one dish. The twins picked something simple (cheese quesadillas, tuna melts) and the oldest can now make Mario Batali’s Eggplant Parm. But you have to walk away and let them figure some things out by themselves….and do it badly possibly…..can you do that Dean? You are a bit of a perfectionist…..

  9. Varmint says:

    Thanks, Beth. I thought I was a snob, not a perfectionist. But you are right, I do have to walk away.

    And I’ve been reminded by the kids that they’re much better cooks than I gave them credit for. I was trying to say that I really didn’t know what they could cook or not cook. But I wrote it in a way that makes it appear they could do nothing at all. I know they can follow a recipe. Heck, I know that all 4 know how to make a bechamel. So mea culpa, kids. Dad screwed up.

  10. VaNC says:

    That’s right…food snob…not perfectionist! 🙂

    I have seen your kids cook well, so I know they can. Very impressive.

    My goal in getting them to cook, is so I can read and have a glass of wine while they do it. M is there…the twins…not so much.

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