Imagine if you will, a paradise wherein you limp through the front door after a long day at work, and your child has prepared dinner for you.
Most of us are a long way from that ideal, but I see glimpses of this paradise when I visit other homes. It might look like a high school senior who is browning ground beef to get dinner going when I stop by to drop something off for her mom, or a 9th grader making Chinese scallion pancakes for the family breakfast when I’m there as a guest. It’s starting to happen at our house where one kid can make waffles just about start to finish, and another has become the king of Jeb Bush’s secret guacamole recipe. Cooking is one of those tasks that when only one family member does it, it risks becoming a burden or something taken for granted, but when many participate, it becomes a gift. So how can you start this process with children?
Start with family favorites. Think about what your child most loves to eat, and start there. For most kids, this is treats, and baking is pretty simple with minimal chopping or guessing how much to add of something. Plus, the ingredients aren’t “gross” (sorry, raw chicken, but every cook finds you disgusting at first). Move on from baking to a favorite family breakfast, snack, or traditional food. Watch for readiness to learn.
Allow two to five times the time. Don’t underestimate the power of culinary experience. Even an older teen or young adult is just not going to have the knife skills or coordination that a primary family chef has developed in twenty years of cooking. They’re going to have lots of questions that they need answered, more than once, to get a recipe down. Teach kids to cook on the weekend or whenever you have more time.
Make your kid your sous chef. Just having your kid in the kitchen is great. They’ll learn from you just by being there and it makes cooking less boring for you.
Use recipes with photos to branch out. Kids can’t tell from reading a recipe if it will be good or not and benefit from photo instructions. The FamilyFun Cookbook is a good one for kids. Many online food blogs also have sequential instructions with photos.
Host a kids’ recipe swap. Try having a couple kids (and parents if kids are younger) bring copies of a family favorite recipe to swap, and make them for each other. Use these recipes to help your kid start a personal recipe file of things they know how to make. I still have “World’s Best Cornbread” from my childhood friend!
Overall, it’s wonderful for children to have the chance to be the givers, not just the receivers of the gift of cooking. Cooking is an adult skill that kids can feel empowered about mastering, and someday, hopefully sooner than later, you can sit down to a meal your kid cooked for you.