I'm lucky that I was brought up in a house where both of my parents excelled at cooking, and we ate a home-cooked meal almost every day. But as a child, my parents didn't really allow me to do much in the kitchen. My duties focused on setting the table, cleaning up and washing the dishes. Occasionally, I would prepare breakfast for my mom on Mother's Day. I didn't really learn to cook until college. After moving off campus, I had to learn to cook just to survive.
Like all parents, when my son was born, I promised to encourage and foster him to lead a life that is far easier and better than previous generations. So, I set off to nurture a passion for this essential life skill early. Only one problem: how to do it? In my case, the easiest way to teach kids to cook is through a combination of these methods.
Here is my recipe to get your little loves to cook.
For the naturally curious child:
- Create a Positive Environment. Don't ban your kids from the kitchen. Start by setting an example by cooking a homemade meal while they watch or do homework at the kitchen table. Demonstrate and talk them through the recipe. Let them touch and smell the ingredients. Show how you use the different kitchen tools. Encourage them to taste the meal while you are preparing it.
Linguine al Nero di Seppia servito al dente con salsa di stile di Mati
- Challenge Them. Everyone loves to be pushed to do something new most of the time. Kids generally love to be treated with higher levels of responsibility in the house. Try baking cookies together or making breakfast as a lead-in. When you see that their appreciation and interest is growing, have them prepare more complex dishes. Pasta and side dishes like french fries or salads are perfect for kids.
Breakfast Prepared by Junior
- Have Follow-up Talks. Communication is the essential ingredient in the success of any endeavor. Talk to your family and friends about how you and your child worked together to prepare a dish. Invite your kid to the adult table and have them lead the conversation about their new life as a cook.
Mati's first Wiener Schnitzel
For the indifferent child:
- Cooking as Punishment: This method is guided by the age-old wisdom that necessity is the mother of all invention. One day, when I was working as a high school teacher, I asked a difficult student, who was constantly rowdy how his parents manage to keep him in line. To my surprise, he responded that they stop cooking.That's not to say the children don't eat. They do, but the difference is that now they face the challenges of adult life early and have to get cooking (with parental supervision, of course). I tried and tested this approach, and it works.
To sum up, the earlier you surround your kids with an appreciation and appetite for good food, the better off they will be in the future. The satisfaction you both feel from growing as parent and child will be priceless and well worth the effort and more than the sum of its parts.
Here are some resources to get you started:
- Television: MasterChef Junior
- Book: The Silver Spoon for Children: Favorite Italian Recipes
Another great resource are the hands on kids cooking classes we offer at The Chopping Block. We've got several holiday options coming up over the next couple of months at Lincoln Square. From decorating a Haunted House to three-day mini-camps for both kids and teens over holiday vacation to family classes, we'll get you cooking together as a family.