Shoelaces, Clean Clothes, and Cracked Eggs

Why Kids Need to Learn How to Cook

Have you ever met a teenager who couldn’t tie his shoe? Probably not. Why do parents teach their children to tie their shoes? Two reasons – so the child can take care of himself, and so mom or dad doesn’t need to tie the shoes several times each day. We do it for our kids, and we do it for ourselves.


So we agree about tying shoes, right? Now let’s talk about laundry. When I was 15, I attended a sleepaway camp where it so happened that we had to do our own laundry. My camp friend Jordan had never done laundry before and had apparently never even seen the process. He was amazed and befuddled at the machines. He had not given much thought to laundry, but said, “I guess I just assumed you put the laundry in and it came out folded.” What?! To anyone who has done laundry – sorted it, hauled wet laundry into the dryer, folded it – this seems absurd. But if you have never seen the process how would you have any idea what the machines did?

As much as I liked Jordan, I did not want my someday-kids to be like him at 15. I wanted them to be able to take care of themselves. From the time they were little, I had a list of things I wanted my two boys to know – and do – by the time they graduated from high school. I didn’t wait until my oldest was a senior in high school to start cramming this knowledge into his head. I started young, and I started small. With the laundry, I did the sorting, washing, drying, and folding. Then I asked them to put away their folded laundry. Once they had that under their belts, I dumped the pile of clean kid’s clothes on the floor and directed them in folding and sorting. With practice, they learned to fold their clothes. Of course, they did not fold as neatly as I did. Their drawers were messier than I would have liked. As with most parenting practices, I had to “l-e-t g-o.” Once they put their clothes in their closets and drawers, I taught them how to sort, wash and dry. For a while, I had to remind them, guide them, help them. Now, at 14 and 17, they have been doing their own laundry, including sheets and towels, for several years. The time I put in when they were little has paid off in dividends of my time now that they are older. And they have turned an essential life skill into a habit.


What Does This Have to do With Cooking?

Like doing laundry and dressing oneself, cooking is a life skill, and it takes time to learn. We don’t just give our kids a recipe and a knife and let them loose in the kitchen. Like laundry, there is a process, and if we give our kids small tasks and build up their skills, pretty soon they will be cooking for themselves (and maybe for you!) It’s always best when starting out, to do this when you are not pressed for time or perfection. On Tuesday night, you need to bake three dozen cupcakes decorated with the school logo? Maybe not the best time to have the kids learn how to crack eggs. In our family, weekends are a good time to bring the kids in to make something that is forgiving and low pressure – salsa, guacamole, baking cookies for ourselves and friends. The key is to let them practice skills – knife skills, egg cracking, measuring, whisking. Even mixing batter is a skill that some kids need a lot of practice doing – many kids go so crazy mixing that half the flour ends up out of the bowl. Plan for this, and remember that the purpose of the effort is gaining confidence and skills in the kitchen, not making award-winning meals. Start with small tasks – measuring, mixing, pouring – and build up to bigger tasks. A note on measuring – have them read the recipe. What is the difference between “t” and “T”? The difference is a delicious batch of cookies and a salty batch of cookies!

If they make a mistake, take a deep breath, smile, and tell them that you’ve made mistakes, too. Have them help you clean up, and move on. The home kitchen is not a nuclear laboratory; mistakes aren’t the end of the world. The point is, they have to be allowed to make mistakes – just keep them safe from fires and major cuts. The rest of it can be cleaned up….teach them that, too!


Author information: Nancy Martz is the Executive Director of Apples to Zucchini Cooking School, a non-profit based in Santa Barbara, CA. Their mission is to teach children and their families how to prepare delicious, nutritious, affordable meals made from real food. For more information, visit www.atozcookingschool.org


Takeaway

Just like tying your shoes, doing your laundry, and learning how to cook, proper nutrition education is on the top of every parent's MUST list for their children. By engaging in healthy eating habits at a young age, it is easier to carry on these heart-healthy practices into adulthood. Just as Nancy put it, "start young and start small!" Kids in Nutrition does this by educating 1st-grade elementary students on the basics of how AND why healthy eating is essential for everyone. Check out KIN's nutrition curriculum for more information!

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Kids in Nutrition is an official program under Sustainability and Community Health Initiative (SACHI). SACHI is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.