Cooking is one of the skills few of us can do without. Most of us can’t afford to eat at restaurants every night, nor can we afford to have a maid do our cooking for us. That leaves us two options – learn how to cook or eat badly. Pretty much everyone prefers the former option. Smart parents know this and teach their kids how to cook. Learning how to cook, however, doesn’t just mean learning how to put a slice of bread in the toaster and heat up a bowl of baked beans in the microwave. If a child’s skills are limited to that, they’ll be eating badly for the rest of their lives. Smart parents train their kids to cook at least one nutritious family meal at least once a week, thus saving themselves time to do other things and letting their kids practice a valuable skill.
So what kind of dishes can young and inexperienced cooks be expected to make? The answer extends to anything that they’ve dealt with before. For example, if you’ve shown your child how to poach an egg and watched them do it themselves, they will be able to handle a recipe which requires eggs to be poached. If they don’t know what poaching is and have never used a pan, don’t expect them to be able to do it.
Start your child off with simple recipes which don’t involve any complicated procedures or cooking methods. Salads recipes can be great. They learn to organize their ingredients and utensils according to when they will be needed, practice simple techniques such as chopping, slicing, shaking, mixing sauces, grating, plus how much to serve to each person and so on. As the recipes become more complicated, allow them to use their creativity to solve simple problems. For example, upon finding that you’re out of balsamic vinegar, they may choose to replace it with red wine vinegar or malt vinegar. Let them taste both and make their own minds up. If it doesn’t really work, they’ll know next time.
Once your child can do these things safely and effectively, move them on to cooking appliances and techniques. Start off with the simple things – shallow frying, roasting etc. Always supervise your child until you have seen them do it right a number of times. You should also test how they deal with things when they go wrong. Many kids love the idea of making home-made fries. This is simple enough but controlling the temperature of the oil is tricky at first. Teach them and then be ready on stand-by to observe how your child deals with a pan fire. You can’t leave your child unsupervised until you know they can handle it when things don’t go as planned.
A really fun recipe for them to try once they have got to grips with most cooking concepts is Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie. The child will have to think about the logistics a little, and it gives them the chance to practice a wide number of techniques to put together a simple, but delicious meal for your family, especially in winter. When you come in from the cold, having unsuccessfully spend hours trying to fix your snow blower and then resorting to work with your shovel, the smell of hot Shepherd’s Pie coming out of the oven will make you thank yourself again and again for having invested your time and effort into teaching your child how to cook. Years from now, as your child serves up the same recipe to their own family, they’ll remember your effort, too, and thank you for it. Oh, and by the way, for next winter, check out Snow Shifts.
You can actually combine more activities of mutual benefit with cooking. For example, you can get your child interested in growing their own fruit and vegetables which they can take care of themselves and use in their cooking. This saves money, teaches your child new skills and gives them a wholesome hobby. The same can be said about fishing, keeping poultry and hunting. Get it right and you might not be allowed back into the kitchen again without your child’s permission!