Are you trying to teach kids to cook? Great!
But you should really read this first.
As soon as my sons were tall enough to reach the kitchen counter (while standing on a chair), we had them in the kitchen helping us cook. So one would think they are experts, right?
I mean, I do have the kid who woke up in the middle of the night to bake a cake, and then realized we didn’t have frosting and had to figure out a recipe that didn’t take butter or milk (because we didn’t have any in the house.)
Props to you, dear boy.
My teens sons are constantly hungry and always in the kitchen. Cooking was one of the best things we taught them to do.
(Mom of teen boys, can I get an amen?)
We have a ton of cookbooks to work from (one of our favorites right now is Eat Your Way Through the USA) and the boys are in charge of making one meal from it every week. (Which, by the way, is a great goal for your older kids!)
But even though our sons have a lot of experience, there are many things we’ve realized that they still get tripped up on when it comes to cooking.
Here are seven things we’ve found they didn’t know about cooking (or that we have to remind them about) that I urge you to keep in mind when you teach kids to cook.
1. Teach kids to cook by sharing the definition of cooking and baking terms.
Cream the butter and sugar does not mean, as my 13 year old suggested, add cream to the butter and sugar.
And while many recipes are written very clearly, some books (especially old cookbooks) assume you know a lot of the basics. So even though your kids may have figured out that cream the butter and sugar means to mix them together, they might not yet know that the butter has to be soft in order to do so. (And no, not all recipes include softened butter in the ingredient list.)
Mixing, beating, combining, and folding all mean different things. Right? Right.
Oh. And pro tip from my boys: when you mix flour into anything, if you turn the beaters on at full speed, you’ll have flour all over the kitchen.
Which you sorta think is funny, but your mom will just give you that look.
2. Identifying or converting measurements/ingredients is important when you teach kids to cook.
I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I know by sight which is the 1 cup measuring cup and which is the 1/2 cup measuring cup. I didn’t realize this until my sons were trying to make brownies from scratch and needed a 1/3 cup measuring cup.
Because you know what we realized? All of the markings on our measuring cups are worn off.
Sometimes we are so used to our kitchens and the things that are in them, that we don’t realize someone else doesn’t know all the ins and outs and quirks of how we do things.
Know what I mean?
The other thing my sons have learned is that there are some ingredients in some recipes that you can use a little less of or a little more of. You don’t always have to be precise. After a lot of time in the kitchen experimenting, you learn which is okay and which isn’t.
More vanilla in the cookies? It’s all good.
More flour in the bread on a humid day? Totally acceptable.
More oil in the brownies? No. Just…no.
But this isn’t innate, in-born knowledge. It takes a lot of experimenting, or for someone to tell you.
So tell your kids when you teach them to cook.
3. When you teach kids to cook, understand that some cookbooks assume you know a lot already.
In really old cookbooks, it is often assumed the cook knows the order in which to mix ingredients. Old cookbooks would also assume you knew the temperature something needed to be baked at, or they would use terms like “slow” or “moderate” oven.
So, while some cookbooks might specifically say softened butter or all ingredients at room temperature, not all of them will. Which is one of the reasons it’s so important to…
4. Read through the whole recipe before using it.
I know. It sounds like one of those elementary school activities where they’d make you read through the whole worksheet and do a bunch of steps, only to find out if you read through it before you actually started the steps, you only had to really do the last step on the page.
But this is real life in the kitchen, y’all. This set of directions actually matters.
It’s important to read through the recipe because:
a) sometimes not all the ingredients are listed in the ingredient list.
The boys made a bread here using a recipe that listed every single ingredient except for salt in the main ingredient list. Then, somewhere in the directions, the cookbook snuck in 2 tsps. of salt.
Do you know what it’s like to make bread without salt? It’s not very good. Had they read through the recipe first, they would have known we needed salt to make it and would have waited until we had some.
b) sometimes the method of cooking (or other important information) isn’t stated until the end.
Another recipe the kids recently tried was a pork chop recipe that was actually meant to finish in the crock pot for a few hours. But the recipe wasn’t listed in the crock pot section of the cookbook, so they went to work on the recipe thinking it was an oven or grill recipe.
5. Something we often forget when we teach kids to cook? That thing about prep time and serve time and getting it all on the table at the same time time
At some point in your child’s cooking career they will move from “can you make this salad?” to “can you make a spaghetti dinner tonight?” A dinner meaning the main course and the sides and the dessert.
And it’s awesome when kids get to that point because it means that mom doesn’t have to do all the things.
There is a certain kind of math required to figure out how to put all the finished dishes on the table at one time.
- If you’re making fried chicken, when do you start the mashed potatoes?
- If you’re making lasagna, when do you start the bread sticks?
- And if you plan to serve pie for dessert, when do you make that?
6. Dear kids: you need to be able to find the ingredients and supplies for what you’re making.
When you teach kids to cook, don’t forget part of making the meal is finding the ingredients.
It’s one thing for mom and dad to collect the ingredients, set out the recipe, and say “here, make this.”
It’s another thing entirely for the kid to figure out if they have enough oil, garlic powder, flour, or ground beef—not to mention taking the ground beef out of the freezer to thaw if necessary.
7. Which kitchen tools go with the task at hand?
A beater or stand mixer is good for some things, and a wooden spoon is better for others. Sometimes the choice of tool will change the consistency of what you’re making.
If you don’t have a vegetable peeler, can you use a paring knife? Maybe. Can you use a larger knife for a smaller job? Not always. These are all things that are great to talk about when you teach kids to cook.
The truth? Experience is the best teacher, and there is always more to learn!
Everyone eats, so it only makes sense that everyone knows how to prepare food.
Challenge your kids to learn more in the kitchen when they are ready to do so. The more time you spend in the kitchen cooking, baking, and expanding your horizons, the more you will learn.
No one will learn everything they need to know from one cooking course, but by spending a lot of time in the kitchen working and observing, nose in a cookbook and hands on the ingredients, it’s amazing the skills that kids (and you!) can add to the repertoire .