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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Teach Your Children Well

I was speaking with a friend of mine who was bemoaning the fact she was running late, and she was going to have to pick up take-out for dinner AGAIN. When I suggested her kids (12 & 14) could make dinner she looked at me like I was insane. “They’re too young and besides, they don’t know how,” was her answer.

I'm the last person to tell anyone how to raise their kids, but this one seems like a no-brainer. It used to be that cooking was taught by one generation to the next.  Recipes were passed through the family like an inheritance.  Today the only thing we seem to teach is how to use the microwave to make popcorn.  If you don’t teach your kids how to cook, then who will? (Is Home-Economics even taught in school anymore?) And it’s not just about having somebody else make dinner (even though that’s really great). There are a whole slew of reasons to bring your kids into the kitchen.

Cooking is essential for good health. When the kids finally leave home, unless they know the basics, they’ll be ordering in food or going out to eat most nights. This will drain their wallets (meaning they’ll be calling YOU for a loan) and add to their waistline (restaurant food is considerably more caloric than home cooking). If they know how to make a simple chicken stock they’ll be eating well (think soups, stir-fry’s, braised veggies, etc.) and their food budget will last much longer.

Cooking requires planning and problem solving. Menus, shopping lists, prepping food for a recipe (mis-en-place for you foodies) … this all takes thoughtful preparation and budgeting.  If your child knows how to shop, prepare and cook a pot of chilli, how much of a stretch is it to plan for other areas of life? And if there are no kidney beans for the chilli (we're not making Texas chilli folks), are Pinto beans a suitable substitute (yes).  Add to that the sense of responsibility your child is learning when planning a meal. These are all good things.

Cooking is a social activity… or at least it’s best when it is. Some of the best moments I’ve spent with my sons have been in the kitchen prepping pork butts for the smoker or shopping at the local farmers market and making dinner out of what looked good. Even teaching them how to properly use a knife and chop vegetables can save you prep time, and give you and your kids some quality time together.  And while I'm at it, eating together is important too.  Turn off the television and have a real dinner, at least once a week.  You'll be amazed at how much your kids have to say, especially when they helped cook the meal.

I’m not suggesting everyone needs to send their kids to culinary school (although that option does have some side benefits). Rather, bring them into the kitchen (without their cell phones!) and teach them how to peel carrots, kneed bread or do whatever part of whatever you’re cooking you think they can handle. As their skill improves you can give them more to do and soon you can have them getting most, if not all of the evening meal ready before you get home. Think about the time that will save. More importantly, think about the gift you’ll be giving your kids.

Be a parent.  Get cooking.

9 comments:

  1. I heartily agree! My 4-year-old is involved in nearly all of our meal prep. She even rearranges the pepperoni when it's frozen pizza night.

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  2. I was a latch key kid. My parents both worked and we were taught to cook -- yes, at 12. I was actually cooking dinner at 11, but it wasn't a big deal. Were they great meals? No. But I found I liked cooking. When I moved out, I ate well. Can't say the same of some of my college friends.

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  3. YES! Kids can cook! I believe that was a TV show.

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  4. Arne, you are so right! My older daughter was not much for hanging out in the kitchen, she was more interested in having her nose in a book, she was my academic over achiever, National Merit Finalist, went to college on a full academic scholarship. She did know how to do the basics. While she was in college and co-oping over 200 miles away from home, I would get these calls from her, "Mom, how do you make your cornbread?" Now, her degree is in engineering, so my way of a little of this & a little of that did not work for her. So, I had my secretary sit down and put all of my recipes into word documents. Those recipes included those from my mother, grandmothers, grandfather, aunts, well you get the idea. After that we printed them all up, put them in sheet protectors and a binder and we had the perfect gift for my college age daughter and myself.

    My younger daughter was 180 degrees diferent, she was always in the kitchen, helping. Sometimes, it was her and several friends. She learned how to cook very well.

    I said all of that to say that both of my daughters are excellent cooks and bakers. They took diferent paths to learn that just like everything they did. My older daughter, the engineer, is now a stay at home mommy of 3 beautiful little girls. When I need some kind of food to take to my women's group or bring to work, I just call her, she makes it and I go by and pick it up!

    So yes, I agree with you 100%

    Brenda Lynn

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  5. What a great story Brenda!

    I never really inherited any cooking "history" from my family. No family cookbooks, no secret recipes. However, my wife and I have started that tradition. We have a chicken & corn chowder recipe that my sons will get once they are out on their own.

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  6. Couldn't agree more, Arne- My parents had us frying eggs long before we could even see the top of the stove(we would drag a chair from the dining room to stand on). I "blame" my love of food completely on my parents. Without them exposing(and encouraging) us to try new things and prepare them for the family I would NEVER appreciate cooking and food like I do today.

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  7. What a great post, Arne. & how fun it must be to pick things at the farmer's market for the meals! I don't know why kids wouldn't like cooking: you get to make noise & messes - & then you get to eat it.

    My folks didn't teach me much about cooking - in fact my mom's cooking left a lot to be desired. Once I hit college I looked at making my own meals as a design exercise & still have a great time inventing things to eat.

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  8. Hi Arne,

    Good post, our son was responsible for one meal a week, sometimes it was repetitive but at least he learned his way around a kitchen. Eventually he followed in my footsteps and went to culinary school. He's not doing the professional thing anymore but he eats well and makes his own bacon, what more can you ask.

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  9. He makes his own bacon? You can quite literally ask for nothing more. Mine bakes his own bread. Equally as worthy.

    Thanks for reading Bruce.

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