Cooking is a life skill that our children need to have. Being able to cook means you can care for other people, with one of our most basic needs – food, and you can care for yourself. Food is very much a part of our culture’s expression of hospitality, which as a Christian, needs to be more about the care of others than the flash presentation of food – but cooking does come into it.
Teaching my kids to cook hasn’t been a natural choice for me. Though I enjoy cooking myself, simplifying cooking and baking has been one of the choices I’ve made when I took on homeschooling. Added to the fact, that I have never liked sharing a kitchen with anyone! Not even as a teenager myself. But cooking is an important life skill and since I am committed to teaching my kids practical life skills, they had to learn to cook.
This is a summary of the different things we’ve done over the years.
Initially they worked alongside of me, helping me do little tasks like peeling, grating, stirring etc. Then I’d get them to do one aspect of the meal – like preparing the vegetables, browning the meat, or cooking the pasta. Little by little they were learning various terminologies and techniques but rarely did they cook a whole recipe from whoa to go.
Once they were comfortable in the kitchen I started giving them simple meals to prepare for the family. This was particularly helpful on those busy days when a full meal (meat and veg) simply wasn’t going to happen: eggs on toast, pasta and bottled sauce, or soup.
The next stage was for them to get familiar with simple recipes for cooking from scratch. At this stage I had chosen a few recipes for them, and the idea was when they were on cook’s helper duty, their ‘recipe’ would be our evening meal; they would watch me one week, and then I’d watch them as they practiced it over the next few times they were cooking, eventually being able to cook it without me in the kitchen. Each of them had their favourite beginner’s recipe book, and we’d slowly work through some of those recipes.
My intention has been to expose my kids to cooking different foods, but mostly foods that are family friendly. I have tried to meet the kids where they are at – choosing recipes that interest them as well as continually challenging them and exposing them to new recipes. I want them to be comfortable in the kitchen, able to cook for our family, and theirs in the future.
The girls have taken to baking – though with baking I couldn’t stand by and just teach/supervise them, I found it much more peaceful for us all if I baked the same recipe, side by side, as they learnt – me with one bowl, and them with another! I taught them to bake much the same way as I taught them to cook: teach them various techniques, and then they were able to pull it all together with the recipe, and then pick up any recipe successfully. Teach the part, and then the whole.
Just as the girls have taken to baking more than the boys, the boys have taken to the BBQ more than the girls. Though they can each do both at a push.
Recently I reassessed our weekly commitments and found that the kids weren’t really cooking that much – so we discussed this and came up with a new plan. The new plan is that instead of being ‘cook’s helper’ for a week, they take responsibility for one meal a week. Except Jessica who has a personal goal (outside of my desire for her to learn) to be a better cook, and have a repertoire of recipes she is familiar with, so she has chosen to do 2 meals (one week day and one weekend meal) a week. This plan is working because they now know how to cook, they just need to get better!
I’ve noticed some other benefits as well:
- The kids are completely responsible – they can cook now, and they don’t need me over their shoulder, so they should be responsible. They have also identified that when they ‘help’ me, I don’t tend to give them a recipe since more often or not I’m working from my head. They all find this hard and prefer to have it written down, so they can be responsible for the whole thing.
- As they work hard on cooking the whole meal, not just a portion, they are starting to see the effort required, and they are much more appreciative of other people’s efforts. They were always thankful for the meal, but now they appreciate it deeper.
- We are trying new recipes – which makes evening meals a little more interesting!
Each of my kids need different training and practice in the kitchen and our new system reflect this. The boys need regular practice of the same recipe in order for them to ‘get’ it and make it a part of their repertoire. Naomi needs practice, but not as much as the boys. Jess’ personal goal is to be more efficient in the kitchen so she wants a variety of recipes (to increase her repertoire) but she is working on being quick in the kitchen. So the boys cook the same recipe on the same night each week, for a month. Naomi and Jessica alternate two recipes for their given night/s over a month, giving them more variety than the boys. We are choosing new recipes each month, though every so often I throw an older recipe at them, helping them keep familiar with what they already know.
Are you teaching your kids to cook? I found it helpful, way back when they were young, to be aware of what my ‘blocks’ were. I knew I should be teaching them to cook, but I wasn’t. My friend had her kids in the kitchen all the time. And though that doesn’t mean I should, I knew I wanted my kids to cook.
I thought about what stopped me:
- I don’t like cooking with others in the kitchen (though I’m getting better)
- I didn’t like the mess
- Cooking was my down time where I was in my own world (to a small degree)
I had to weigh up these concerns with my desire to teach my kids to cook. My answers were
- Get over it (the mess and having the kitchen to myself)
- Wait until the kids were a little older (my friend had her kids in the kitchen from the time they could sit on the bench – for me, I waited till they could help with the cleaning up!)
- Teach them isolated skills rather than whole recipes to start with
- Allow them to make a mess – as long as I wasn’t in the kitchen, and they cleaned up (this was after they had some competency and safety awareness)
- Give myself the freedom to say “not today – I’m cooking by myself!”
Your ‘road blocks’ may be different than mine – but think about it – what is stopping you from teaching your kids to cook, and then letting them free in your kitchen? Finding a way to teach them to cook will be worth it.
Here are some blog posts I’ve written in the past on this topic. You’ll see our progression as well as different ideas that I used along the way.