Another Covid-19 quarantine day. Another dinner to plan. Ugh.
It had started out with so much promise. Now that my state’s stay-at-home order had eliminated my daily Uber-mom driving duties, I would have the time to make the meals I always hoped for my family. I could research and try new recipes, and add some new favorites to the well-worn meal rotation.
But after weeks of proud Facebook posts sharing my creations and even the obligatory baking of sourdough bread, my enthusiasm flagged, partially diminished by a familiar teen refrain: “Yuck, I don’t like this. Why can’t you make anything good?” Sigh.
It was in that moment of weariness and quarantine frustration that I said, “If you don’t like it, why don’t YOU cook dinner?” Those who cook for a spouse, partner, family can all relate, right? But an idea began to form. Quickly I said to my 13-year-old twins “How would you like to plan and cook a meal one night a week? Dad and I will clean up after! “ Much to my surprise, they readily accepted.
Why Challenge your Kids to Cook
There are benefits of learning to cook for children, whether they are teenagers or toddlers. These are well-documented and include things like promoting healthy eating, increasing self-confidence and enhancing math and science skills, not to mention teaching a valuable and necessary life skill.
For my older children, I was hoping for several additional outcomes:
- Contributing to the Family: For teens, cooking is not yet a chore. Bolstered by the viewing of many episodes of Master Chef Junior and The Great British Baking Show, it offers the allure of creativity, competence and the illusion of control (I get to decide what I eat!). Yet the shared responsibility of meal preparation, including planning, shopping, and making the meal are very real contributions to busy, multi-tasking families. I want them to experience the pride and satisfaction of meaningful contribution, even if only once a week.
- Practicing Empathy: There is much to be learned from the process of putting effort into something and having it not be well received, whether by your own worst critic (yourself) or the faces around the table. From that experience, they can begin to form empathy (a quality still being developed in this life stage) for their poor parents, whose experience goes before them.
- Having fun: Let’s face it, as parents of teens, we are always on the look-out for opportunities to drag our growing adolescents out of their rooms and away from their screens, if only for a little while. Even from a remote supervisory role (I can do this, Mom!), it feels good to hang out and connect through kitchen camaraderie.
Challenge Week One:
For the first week, the challenge was open with little guidance or restrictions. My daughter took the lead in researching recipes, and soon landed on an easy pasta salad recipe to be accompanied by our family recipe for avocado toast as a side dish (recipe follows).
She made her shopping list and helped me with the shopping, face mask and all.
On the big night, my twins gathered the required ingredients, dug out the necessary tools and cooking vessels and did the prep.
It was a great recipe with which to begin their challenge, in that it had familiar ingredients, a moderate amount of prep and relatively easy cooking techniques (boiling pasta and roasting vegetables).
My twins prepared the meal in under 45 minutes. With a table set by their parents, my children served us a tasty, colorful and healthy meal. Week one success!
What We Learned Together
Parents: Social distancing is imperative. If you try to overdirect the process (ahem), it defeats the point of the challenge and takes the fun out of it for everyone. Enough said.
Kids: Given the above admission, they were surprisingly thoughtful on what was learned:
- Some help is welcome, especially in the tricky aspects of cooking such as timing and sequencing.
- Reading and referencing the recipe throughout cooking is imperative.
- Recipes can be adapted to suit your tastes (add some chicken, try edamame instead of garbanzo beans).
- And the real win: We can cook “real food” in addition to baking (the gateway drug for most children).
The Challenge Continues…
So perhaps my title was a bit of an overpromise, but I think my teens are on their way to learning how to cook in this unprecedented time of quarantine. Week one was a success, and all parties have agreed to take up the challenge again for next week. The kids are promising three courses for next week!
If you’d like to encourage your children to cook, consider finding a virtual cooking class. It’s something you can do together from the comfort of your own kitchen. Our private Facebook group is another great resource full of a community of people that love to cook, too. In fact, our weekly challenge for our #tcbcookingclub this week is to cook a dish together with your kids!
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
3 ripe avocados, mashed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Juice from 1/2 lime
4-8 medium slices of good artisan bread (we like sourdough), toasted
Halved cherry or tomatoes or pickled onions (optional)
1. Mix ingredients well in a bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.
2. Toast bread immediately before serving. Spread avocado mixture on toast. Top with halved cherry tomatoes or pickled onions, if desired.
3. For a yummy breakfast or lunch, top with an egg, poached or fried, medium.