Someone recently told me that if you home-school and your teenage kids can’t cook then you are pretty much a failure. My children may have a good few years to go before they enter their teenage years, but I’m eager to get them cooking as soon as possible – if not for the above reason, then certainly for the reasons below:
1 | Cooking is a useful skill
A life skill if you prefer. If your child learns to cook it certainly gives them a sense of achievement and independence and gives their confidence a boost. The beginnings may be hard (for you rather than for them) as they might be eager to cook and less so to clean, but if you persist and encourage them they will get there one day. The day they accomplish their first cooking mission, the proud smile on their face will be your reward. I guess learning to cook is much like learning to eat – it’s awfully messy to begin with, but you have to let them do it and learn through practice, for their good and your own.
2 | You are what you eat and you eat what you cook
Children who know how to cook or at least fix themselves a sandwich are less likely to stuff themselves with unhealthy processed packaged snacks. Also, if you let your children prepare the healthy stuff by themselves they are more likely to eat it. Sometimes it’s just the case of finding the right recipe collection that would encourage them to try new things. So yeah, let them train their dragon fruit. Or broccoli. Or asparagus.
3 | Kitchen is a brain-gym
Cooking involves lots of activities that will help your children develop their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills: stirring, mixing, kneading, pouring...and that’s just the warm up!
4 | Recipes are for reading
All my children love cookbooks – even my 2-year-old daughter loves leafing through them and occasionally pointing to things that she knows well, like fruit. When kids see you reading while cooking they want to copy that. Reading and understanding recipes is great literacy training. For the younger ones you can start with pictorial cookbooks, like Pretend Soup or Silver Spoon for Children. Let older kids read the whole recipe before they start and prepare all they need. You can also ask them to tell you briefly what needs to be done.
5 | Counting your five-a-day
Cooking requires lots of mathematics: counting, dividing, adding and sharing, measuring, and even geometry. Ever tried halving your square toast in more than one way? You don’t have to put special effort to get your children practicing their maths in the kitchen. Just let it be a natural part of food preparation – practical maths put to the right use.
Of course cooking requires lots of management: You have to first make sure that you have all you need, manage the time, and often do many things at once. And if there is someone cooking with you, even better – you get a chance to learn co-operation. Baking powder is all gone? What can we do now? Is there a substitute or shall we run to the corner shop? That’s called troubleshooting.
8 | Exotic flavors
Everybody knows pizza, but do your children know where it originates from? Once you go through your Italian recipes (favorites in children’s books) maybe it’s time to try something more exotic. Food can be a great pretext to learning geography. Regardless of where you live you are most likely using ingredients from different countries, if only spices. Try tracking the origin of all the ingredients on your plate, or try cooking a single-origin dish. The possibilities are plenty! A map of the world on the kitchen wall would also come handy...
9 | Imaginary flavors and art on the plate
Cooking sparks imagination! Decorating cupcakes is the most obvious form of creativity in the kitchen, but there is much more you can do. Decorating biscuits or cakes requires some artistry, and you can do the same with sandwiches. Older children can get creative with the salads or try their hand at composing themed menus for family get-togethers. You can borrow an idea from cooking competitions and ask your teenagers to prepare a dish from seemingly odd ingredients.
10 | Family time in the kitchen
When you cook with the children you have to give them attention, which most children love. Don’t just teach them cooking – engage and have fun together. Be prepared for the mess, cover the carpeted areas with plastic sheets, and give yourself plenty of time. Cooking together makes wonderful memories, and if you’d like some more permanent record of the activity you could try creating your own family cookbook with recipes passed from great aunties and those you create together. Or your own versions of favorite dishes. Remember that how you spend time together is more important than the end result of your cooking.