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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Kids learning to cook

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to teach my kids how to cook. One of the best things I ever did for each of my kids, was allow them to learn how to cook.

my daughters wanted fry bread one day,
we all benefited 

By learning how to cook, my kids have been able to contribute to the general welfare of our family. When my twins were born, my son was 7 years old. For the first few months, my son and I survived on his cooking during the day. That probably sounds unbelievable to many folks nowadays. A seven year old doing the cooking every day. From 6 AM to 6 PM, I had my hands full with 2 colicky newborns, for the first 3 months of my girls' lives. Chris, my son, cooked pancakes, scrambled eggs, frozen veggies and kept our glasses full of juice.

When Chris was five years old, he was like most kids, eager to make stuff. I just carried this over into cooking. He loved standing on a chair at the stove making pancakes. I would mix up the batter, then let him do the rest. He soon progressed to scrambled eggs. He loved cracking the eggs into a bowl. So what if a few shell pieces got into the eggs. We'd just fish them out and all was fine. By the time he was  seven, he was following recipes that I clearly and simply printed onto recipe cards just for him. By age 8, Chris had a repertoire of chocolate chip cookies, hot fudge pudding cake, and lentil-vegetable soup to add to the pancakes and scrambled eggs. He was proud to contribute his efforts to sustaining our family.

My two daughters, Julia and Grace, also started with pancakes, standing on chairs at the stove with the bowl of batter I mixed for them. By age 7, I pretty much stayed out of the kitchen on Saturday mornings, after I'd mixed the batter. So long as the house didn't catch fire, we were good. I think it would've frustrated me to actually watch them, as they so carefully made all the pancakes doll-sized. I kid you not, all our pancakes were the size of dimes. And this took them up to 2 hours on Saturday mornings to make the family breakfast.

When they were about 9 or 10, they were allowed to mix up the batter themselves. They had many, many mishaps with the measuring, mixing and general remembering to add ingredients. One week, all the pancakes had to be scraped out of the skillet, as they'd forgotten to grease the pan first. Other weeks, large clumps of flour riddled the pancakes. And they often forgot to add something. But we all sat at the table, with smiles on our faces, as we ate those pancakes. Maple syrup has a unique quality, in that it can turn the most inedible food item into something very close to palatable. And, as with my son, preparing food for the family gave my daughters a great sense of satisfaction and pride. 

Allowing my kids to make mistakes along the way has been critical to their learning. They learned how to fix something after a goof, as well as now have that mental reminder of what not to forget or do for future reference in the kitchen. Once you've forgotten to butter the skillet for pancakes, you never forget again.

On Tuesday afternoons, I feel like a queen. This summer, Tuesday has been my daughters' day to cook dinner. I have the long hours of the afternoon stretched out before me, to do as I please. 

My two daughters are 17 years old now, so I just give them free reign to prepare what they want. They will run their menu by me, mostly to make sure we have what they need, and to prevent them from using an ingredient that I have planned for something else. Otherwise, they understand basic nutrition. They know they need to include a carb, some protein and a couple of servings of fruits and/or vegetables.

Last night's dinner consisted of sausage and vegetables in pasta sauce over spaghetti, apple-rhubarb sauce, and cole slaw. They also made Ritz-style crackers in the afternoon, just because they wanted to.

I have no doubt that all my kids will be able to cook for themselves when they're on their own. They won't be part of the generation that eats cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, because they can't cook anything else.

These last couple of generations of kids, are the first in the history of man, to not have daily food preparation responsibilities. We are becoming such a specialized society, that we are failing to teach our children basic self-care skills, like cooking, basic carpentry, basic sewing and mending, and growing or raising food. While it's true, we can procure any of these services in such a specialized society, there are some very good reasons to learn to do these things ourselves.

homemade Ritz cracker, anyone?

My kids have an advantage in learning to cook that I didn't have. They have the internet. There's a recipe online for just about anything one could want to make. I was limited to what my mom knew, or what was in her cookbooks. Not so, today. My kids wanted some Ritz crackers, so they made a batch. Julia and Grace want to make Hostess cupcakes next. I told them "sure, when we've gone through some of the treats in the house". The only drawback we have here, is too much food, ready to eat at all times. Oh, the life of a queen is a tough one.

In addition to teaching our children how to do things for themselves, there's a side lesson in all this. We adults could learn from kids' enthusiasm and lack of intimidation, when it comes to cooking new things. Kids see something. . .they want to try it. They don't think, "oh I could never make that" or "that looks too complicated". They see, then they try. And they tend to laugh off their little kitchen goofs. It's just all part of life to them.


Live and Learn said...

One of the hard parts of being a parent is standing back and letting kids do things incorrectly so they can learn. Hat's off to you in doing this with your children.

Belinda said...

For some reason, my daughter doesn't like the home ec stuff, which I think is odd because what girl doesn't like home ec? I've done my best to teach her what I can in the kitchen, but she does not like it and is very vocal about it. She tells me she is going to eat out every meal when she grows up and I told her she better make a a lot of money! lol

Kris said...

Wow, good for you, Lili. I have always had my kids help out in the kitchen (making cookies is a great rainy-day activity and my daughter loves to knead bread). I have been encouraging having them help with simple meals this summer but I am afraid of them burning themselves so I limit their access to the stovetop/oven. We ended up doing a LOT of camping this summer so more of our cooking activities have been at the campsite using a Dutch oven.

I find that, as a parent, I sometimes forget that my kids are getting older and can handle additional responsibilities. It's so easy to keep doing things myself. I have to make a conscious effort to teach them new skills (and to be patient when they inevitably have a problem). Thank you for the timely reminder.

Anonymous said...


I also started cooking for the family (mostly eggs) at age 7, though it was more of an occasional thing. I can't wait until my son gets tall enough to reach things without a stool.

Lili said...

Hi Live and Learn!
I know, it's so hard to just stand back. For me, the best way is to leave the room and busy myself with something else. If I am any where near, I'll want to correct this, suggest that, etc. And I think that undermines my kids feelings of being capable.

But you've been doing that, too. I seem to recall you blogging about one of your son's cooking. The meals don't always turn out, but at least they're trying.

Thanks for reading!

Lili said...

Hi Belinda!
What?! The mad scientist who was crafting fruit fly traps in the kitchen, doesn't like home ec? Well, I hate to tell her this, but the fruit fly traps were kinda home ec-y. I bet she does just fine. And I'm sure she has learned a lot, just from watching you in the kitchen, like all those individual pizzas you made last week. Seeing you do things like that will give her the confidence to try it herself, when she has to. The thing that "sold me" on cooking was cookie dough. If I was baking cookies, I could eat all the dough I wanted!

But you know, kids all have their different interests. One of my daughters likes to sew and knit. The other can't stand that sort of thing. I'm thinking of having the daughter who doesn't sew/knit help me with a small carpentry project, repairing a wood garden chair. I had planned on my husband doing that job, but now I'm thinking it would be a good one for my daughter. And I think she'd like it.

Thanks for your comments!

Lili said...

Hi Kris!

I was nervous about the kids using the oven, so I'd do the putting in and taking out of the oven until they were about 10, I think. But they were fine (and I was too) with the stovetop. Even just having kids make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunch is something even a small child can do, and will boost their sense of being capable.

And you're right, sometimes it just feel easier for us, as parents, to just do it ourselves. I am still that way about a lot of things around the house and yard, when I really should be trusting my kids to be a part of the work team. That's something I need to work on. And in the end, it does make my life easier if someone is there to help.

Thanks for visiting!

Lili said...

Hi nicoleandmaggie!

That is so great! I think eggs are one of the most kid-friendly foods for a first cooking experience. Kids seem to like cracking eggs. And there are so many ways they can cook them, that sound fun , like egg in the hole, sunny side up, my kids even liked peeling hard boiled eggs. Eggs are a simple food that kids an make for the whole family. And it really boosts their self-confidence, knowing they cooked something themselves.

Cooking is the first "adult work" that kids witness on a daily basis. Kids often don't get to see where mom or dad go to work. They see in pictures in books all about adults who work as police, fire fighters, mail carriers, but they don't get to watch them at work. But with cooking, the kids are right there, in the middle of the action. And when a child gets to cook something himself, he feels like he's graduated from the baby world and can now, at least sometimes, be included in adult work.

I don't know how old your son is, but I'm betting he will love helping with cooking! He won't see it as a chore, but as another fun thing to do with you!

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Anonymous said...

I too had my children join me in the kitchen, laundry room, whatever. Then I met a man who couldn't cook anything and I was determined my boys wouldn't be men who latched on to a woman to take care of their needs.

Both my sons can cook and bake as well as I can. One funny story we have is about my eldest son. When he first met his soon-to-be wife he wanted to impress her early on. He made stuffed shells and took them over to her for dinner. They had only been dating a couple of weeks at this time. When they sat down to eat, she wouldn't take a bite. He was waiting for her to take the first bite, before he did, trying to be polite. he asked her if something was wrong, she replied she was waiting for him to take the first bite to make sure it was edible as she had never known a man who could cook.

She loved the stuffed shells, and is thankful I taught my son to take care of himself.

Kris said...

That's hilarious! And what a blessing you gave to your daughter-in-law, a husband who could share in the food preparation. I married a man who can cook (he's better at some things than I am) and I love love love it. Now if he'd just learn to stack bowls properly instead of sticking the biggest one precariously balanced on the top of the others ...

Lili said...

Hi Livingsimplyfree!
That's fabulous that your taught your sons to cook, and funny about your daughter-in-law, a bit afraid to taste son's cooking at first!

My in-laws used to tell the story of when they were first married my father-in-law could bake a better apple pie than my mother-in-law. And not because my mother-in-law's cooking wasn't up to snuff. But because my father-in-law had learned at the foot of the master -- his mother was a really fabulous pie baker!

Thanks for your comments!

Kris said...

I think I let myself get intimidated when I read this post. My kids can and do help quite well in the kitchen (with long oven gloves, my son put dinner into and out of the oven a few weeks ago). I've also had my son vacuumming and my daughter sweeping as well as cleaning the bathroom countertops this summer. My overall goal is to have them able to perform basic life skills by the time they graduate from high school (cooking, cleaning, laundry, money management, checking the oil level in the car, etc.) So we are s-l-o-w-ly getting there.

Lili said...

Hi Kris,
That's been my plan, too -- by the time they graduate high school, to be able to do for themselves. And mine are almost there -- this is my two youngests' senior year in high school.

One of the things I plan on working on this year is developing a Saturday morning routine to do basic cleaning chores. They know how to clean, now, but just aren't in the habit of taking responsibilities in cleaning. So, Saturday mornings will be about getting the kids to take on cleaning work. I think that's a reasonable thing,as once they're on their own & have weekday jobs, Saturday AMs will probably work best for household cleaning tasks.

It takes time, but all the little efforts along the way add up. And it sounds like you're doing a great job with your kids!

EcoCatLady said...

I think that is absolutely fabulous! And your daughters have the same color hair as I do!

When I was a kid my mother prided herself on not cooking. I think in some funny sort of a way she felt like cooking was oppression and she was very proud that she didn't cook. So I grew up on TV dinners, hamburger helper and fast food. Every day my mother would call from work in the afternoon, have me take some box out of the freezer, read her the directions and stick it in the oven. That's as far as my cooking instruction went.

I was constantly badgering her to teach me how to cook something... one time I got her to make a chocolate cake, which was a complete and utter disaster. She didn't realize that the batter would rise and so filled the pan completely to the top. That poor oven was never really the same after that.

Once I got out on my own the very first thing I wanted to do was to learn how to cook... and it was... um... a tad bit bumpy at first! But in a funny sort of a way I considered learning to cook to be a supreme act of rebellion. Kudos to you for giving your kids such a wonderful gift!

Anonymous said...

My DH didn't know how to cook when we got married, but now he is better than I am. Practice and a few notable mistakes (fish cookies, pretzel bread, etc) did great for him. He was still slow on knife skills so he took a cooking class-- full of both young 20-something women and men of all ages whose wives/gf had given them the class as a x-mas present.

Lili said...

Funny! I can picture the precarious stack of bowls in my mind!

But you are lucky, Kris. You've mentioned before your husband's gift/desire to do kitchen work, like picking all the meat off of cooked chickens for you. My husband will prepare turkeys and chickens for me to roast, because I don't like to touch all the weird inside parts.

Lili said...

Hi Cat!
What a funny rebellion -- you learning to cook! And your mom's attempt to bake a cake is hilarious! It is strange how some things can seem so straightforward to one person, but confound the next. It's really a good sort of thing that we're all so different.

Yeah, I've noticed your very red hair in your avatar, and been reminded of my daughters' hair. They're my Irish twins (born on St. Patrick's Day even)!

Thanks for reading!

Lili said...

Hi nicoleandmaggie!

I can sort of see the pretzel bread as being edible, but fish cookies? Now those I've never heard of!

I've heard that cooking classes are often filled with men who've been gifted classes by the women in their lives! But kudos to your husband for going to the classes! And now lucky you, he cooks so well.

Thanks for visiting!

Kris said...

Thanks for your kind words! Sometimes I get discouraged with parenting--the "life skills" is mainly my area to address with them and I don't feel like I'm as on the ball as I should be with it.

My mom had a Saturday morning work schedule for me and I was very confident in my ability to perform work tasks as a result--good plan!

Economies of Kale said...

Hi Lili, this is a great post! You are giving your kids such a head-start teaching them life skills like these when they are young.

I also started my cooking career with pancakes, making them for dessert and breakfast at the age of eight or nine. I think most parents capitalise on their children making breakfast because I remember making my parents breakfast many times.

When I was 14 I was making dinner for the family one night a week and none of my friends could believe it. None of them had responsibilities like that but I loved it.

And that is so true what you said about the last couple of generations being the first to not have a part in food preparation and never learning basic cooking skills. I know several people in their late 20s who live on frozen meals and pizza. It's sad and it's also expensive.

Lili said...

Just keep reminding yourself that you're doing a good job. God is guiding you to do your best. There are things that I wish I'd done differently or better with my kids. But I did my best at the time. I have yet to find any kids who turned out perfectly.

I just have to keep telling myself that I've done a decent enough job, and now the rest is up to them (mostly this is with my oldest, who is an adult, but that will have to be my attitude with my daughters as well).

Lili said...

Pancakes are such a fun food for kids to cook. They were one of the first things I really did on my own, too. I had a friend whose mom would let us cook anything we wanted on Saturday mornings, and we'd do pancakes. Of course, they turned out a lot like regular cakes -- extra sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate chips! They were good!

My mom had my sister and I cook dinner fairly often when we were teens, but I don't think it was a regular thing for us. I have a friend, though, whose mom and dad worked during the day. My friend would come home from school and get dinner made before her parents came home, everyday. It was just something she did. In retrospect, my friend is glad that she had this responsibility, as it prepared her for her life now.

It sounds like your cooking responsibilities as a teen really benefitted you. Now, you seem to enjoy cooking (from what I've read on your blog), and you feel capable to try all kinds of things.

Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Mallory said...

That's awesome, I wish there was a picture of the doll-sized pancakes haha :)

Lili said...

Hi Mallory,
I know it would be funny to have a photo of the plates of doll-sized pancakes. Kids get such funny ideas sometimes. I only wish I took more pictures when they were young!

Thanks for reading!

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