How to Teach Your Child How to Cook: Start with the Basics
“I’ll make breakfast, mom.” Those are the words I both dreaded and wanted to hear. As my daughter whipped up ham and cheese omelets for everyone, I realized my days as chef in our kitchen were numbered. When she added the spinach, “because it tastes better with spinach,” I chucked my apron into the closet and decided that maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing.
Growing up with a chef-dad, the kids have been around food and in kitchens since before they were even born. Ironically, our daughter learned to scramble eggs when she was in first grade. Her 4-H leader taught her that one. But not every child has a resident chef or capable 4-H leader, so where do you start?
Basic Food Preparation Skills Every Child Should Learn
You can’t force a kid to cook, but you can foster a love of cooking & food. It all begins with choices. Give them choices.
I tell my kids we are doing “Subway” and set out bread and different fillings, mayonnaise, mustard, etc. Like in the sandwich shop, they get to choose what they want. Let them put the mayonnaise on the bread, the lettuce, etc. (No sharp utensils needed on this one, which is good if you have younger kids). Making sandwiches, whether it’s peanut butter and jelly or a Dagwood special is an essential skill that every child should learn.
Whipping Up Instant Pudding
Before your kids whip up a chocolate mousse confection, begin with instant pudding. Just add milk and mix. Have them read the directions and measure the milk out in a measuring cup (math skills) and use a wire whisk to mix it using small quick motions. They will feel like a chef using the proper tools and this is a good starter for smaller kids.
Mastering a whisk is an essential foundation – they will use the wire whisk for scrambling eggs (and beyond) once you are ready for your kids to move their skills onto the stove top.
Creating a Breakfast Parfait
Have them scoop Greek yogurt into small bowls for mini breakfast parfaits. They can drizzle honey over it, add walnuts, berries or fruit of your/their choice and serve. (We add sprigs of mint in ours as garnish on top).
Kids and Cooking with Heat: The Basics
If you are ready to let your kids tackle cooking with heat, read on. Please supervise your kids at the stove and know their limitations, and lend a hand- like removing hot items from the oven.
Use a cake mix to start with and let your kids get all the ingredients out, measure them and add them to a mixer (eggs, water & oil). Follow the directions on the box. If you are not ready to dive into egg cracking with kids yet, crack them yourself.
Use cupcake liners (less mess) (or coconut oil rubbed into each muffin tin with a paper towel). Have them spoon the mix into the liners 2/3 full. Let them set the timer (they will have to learn one day). Have the responsible adult take them out of the oven (and yes, even we burn ourselves;)
Let your kids frost and decorate them. Extra points for sprinkles.
Pasta is a basic dish that everyone can make and should. Have your child follow the directions on the package and set a timer for when it is done.
As for sauce, use a jar one or kick it up and chop some onion, garlic and pepper. Put in a saute pan in olive oil and let soften. When onions start to look clear, add the jarred sauce or chop some fresh tomatoes and add. Use oregano and thyme in the sauce. Feel free to get creative and mix it up.
When pasta is done, put a kitchen colander in the sink and pour the pasta into it to drain out the water. Rinse (very) briefly with cool water to stop it from over-cooking- put in a serving dish and drizzle with olive oil. Serve and top with sauce.
Everyone needs to know how to make a homemade soup. It is great for using up leftovers and with some bread on the side, it can feed the masses if you have friends hanging out.
Let your child be the “chef” of the soup. A parent can be the “sous-chef” and do all the chopping of veggies (until your child gets to the stage/age where they can do it all themselves). Let your child direct you in what they want in the soup. Use a big saucepan. Cut up the items separately and put into little bowls. Your child can add them to the pot and stir it up. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes.
The base for most soups: chop garlic and onion and saute with olive oil and then you get creative from there.
Here is our daughter’s recipe for her soup:
Heart Soup (Because it is full of love)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion chopped
1 clove garlic crushed
1 red pepper, de-seeded & chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 head cabbage chopped
1 carrot diced
1 cup diced cooked chicken (we use left-over chicken)
1 cup water
salt & pepper to taste
Directions: In a sauce pan, get the oil hot, add the onion, garlic & red pepper and sauté until soft. Then add the chicken stock, cabbage, diced carrot, cooked chicken, and water and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer for about 20 minutes, stir occasionally. Add salt & pepper to taste & serve with a loaf of crusty french bread on the side.
This is the best soup ever and you can change it up- have peas, add that, don’t like carrots, fine, omit it! Have your child add the items- be very careful about it splashing back, though, and stir. A long wooden spoon is great to use to stir your soup.
How to Crack an Egg
Some very talented people use one hand – I have to use two. Also have two bowls handy. Tap raw egg on it’s long side, right in the middle, on the edge of the bowl. It might take a couple of taps to break the egg. When it is broken, gently pull it apart over bowl #1 and then pour out raw egg into bowl #1 and chuck empty egg shell into bowl #2 and wash your hands. It may take a few tries- or even a carton before you get the art of cracking an egg down pat. Even now I still have to scoop an egg shell piece or two out of bowl #1 (use a teaspoon for that). But just think of all the lovely omelets you and your kids can make afterwards!
Practice egg-cracking with your kids when making cakes, cupcakes, or even scrambled eggs. Be patient. Practice makes perfect 🙂
Cleaning Up the Kitchen
Above all else, train your kids to clean up after their cooking adventures (yeah, I am still working on that one myself). Keeping the sink and counters clean and sanitized is essential to your health.
Then who knows, one day you may look forward to: “Don’t worry, I’ll cook dinner/breakfast today!”