Don’t get me wrong; I am not against jello. But teaching your child to make jello is as likely to produce a cook as Guitar Hero is likely to make your child the next Joe Satriani.
I would recommend that you stay away from prepared foods/mixes as much as possible when you’re training a young chef. Those things obscure the principles and techniques behind good food prep, and they leave your child thinking that he can’t actually make food, but he can stir a mix. If he learns how to make the food from scratch, he can always add shortcuts with mixes later. The reverse is seldom true.
I think there are three main reasons why parents pick mixes to teach their kids to cook:
1) The parent assumes that because a mix exists, the authentic version of the dish must be hard to make.
2) The parent was never taught to cook the from-scratch version of the dish.
3) The parent wants something without too many steps for a child’s introduction to making a food.
Here are my three corresponding opinions:
1) ‘Tain’t necessarily so. Most mixes exist because people will buy them, not because they actually reduce the amount of work significantly. (If you want proof, have someone make pancakes from Bisquick while you make them from scratch. Time difference: negligible; taste difference: noticeable.) There are a few foods that are genuinely too difficult or temperamental for the average home cook. I can only think of one (puff pastry) that has an acceptable supermarket prepared version. Just enjoy them when you go out to eat and leave the mixes on the shelves.
2) Great! You get to give yourself cooking lessons too. (More on educating yourself in a later post.)
3) Start with simple from-scratch recipes and work up from there. For instance, even without a mix, most muffin recipes are pretty simple and fool-proof. Also, you might need to adjust your expectations. Teaching a child to cook is a messy, delightful, time-consuming joy.