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Category Archives: Cooking with Children

Cooking with Children, Vol. 7: Learn with them

As you teach your children to cook, don’t be afraid to try new recipes or techniques together.  I really like to teach the “why” behind each ingredient or technique, so a technical food science book is a must for me.  You can probably find one in your local library.  Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated and some internet resources are also good tools for educating yourself.

Cooking with Children, Vol. 6: Make their dreams come true

If your kids get excited about cooking and start finding recipes they want to make, be supportive.  Take them to the store to buy ingredients.  Invest in a spring-form pan if they want one.

Cooking is a life-long joy and necessity, so it’s worth at least as much sacrifice as gymnastics class, soccer, or music.  Don’t skimp on this investment.  Remember, these are the people who are going to cook you for you in your old age.

A favorite memory from Chef Camp 2010

Me: And now each of you will separate an egg.

K begins taking off his watch and explains: My watch is waterproof, but I don’t think it’s egg-proof.

Cooking with Children, Vol. 5: Man doesn’t live on baked goods alone

By all means, start cooking lessons with the things your child likes to eat (which probably means breakfast and sweets).  But somewhere between that first batch of brownies you make together and the high school graduation cake, you should make sure he knows how to cook dinner.

When you choose recipes to make with your youngster, think about skills he will be learning and emphasize the fundamentals.  Everyone needs to learn to make a white sauce, roast vegetables, steam vegetables, prepare salad, cook pasta, mash potatoes, make salad dressing, bread poultry, cook rice, chop and saute onion, make stock, brown meat, de-glaze a pan, build a gravy, etc.  Consider having a list of recipes that will teach these skills, and working through a few every month.

Cooking with Children, Vol. 4: Skip the jello

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.

Cooking with Children, Vol. 3: Don’t do much

Near the end of Monday’s class, one of my students remarked that I hadn’t done much.  This is true.  I discuss things with my students, talk them through the recipe, and usually demonstrate each step, then I hand over the reins and let the students do the actual work.  They’re slow and clumsy with tools and techniques that are new, and sometimes I have to restrain myself from taking over.  But I think the FoodTV viewers:take-out orders ratio in America proves that watching someone make food and feeling confident enough to actually make it are not the same experience.  So, if you’re teaching a child to cook, let the child do at least some of every step.

Cooking with Children, Vol. 2: Expectations

Cooking with children takes longer and is significantly messier than cooking by yourself.  Acknowledge this fact, and adjust your plans and attitudes accordingly.  While I want to teach good work habits, the last thing I want to do is squelch a child’s love for cooking and replace it with anxiety about using too many dishes, making a mess, or taking too long.  Fear and stress don’t belong in the kitchen.