Even though I’ve been cooking large meals for a long time, I still learn something new with each feast. This Thanksgiving was no different but the lesson had nothing to do with actual cooking execution but the importance of teaching kids how to cook.
I spent the holiday in Southern California, a tradition that started in 1999 when I was a poor college freshman who couldn’t afford a ticket home to Bethesda, Maryland from San Francisco. My Aunt Paige and Uncle Tackson bought me a ticket and took me in for the long weekend. Their kids Ben and Aaron were just 2 and 4 at the time.
I arrived the morning of Thanksgiving a bit of a zombie. Like most freshmen, I spent my first few months of college staying up to way too late and in a constant sleep-deprived state. Since I didn’t know how to cook then, I went straight to the guest room and slept until I was woken up at 4 pm to join the guests that had arrived.
I was utterly useless.
Luckily I’ve grown out of my unhelpful, lazy 18 year old self and have cooked many Thanksgiving dinners since. My Aunt still takes care of the grocery shopping but I manage everything else when I arrive in the morning.
This year was no different except Ben was now 18, and he was the college freshman coming home for Thanksgiving. He and Aaron a junior in high school were my main sous chefs. They were the complete opposite of the useless teenager I was. They had been cooking with their parents, our grandmother, and me since they were young and are incredibly competent in the kitchen for teenage boys (and even compared to a lot of adults I’ve worked with).
Here they are performing their magic in the kitchen:
My Aunt and Uncle had achieved a parent’s dream – they trained their kids early on so that they could so that they could now sit back and reap the benefits. This Thanksgiving, my Aunt was out for a well-deserved hair appointment while the “kids” prepped and cooked dinner.
And that is the lesson I learned from this Thanksgiving. Teaching kids to cook is not easy and takes patience, but the earlier you start, the earlier everyone experiences the payoffs.
There were times in the past when I wanted to yank the carrot or potato Ben and Aaron were chopping from them because it would have been faster (and safer) for me to do it. I’m sure every adult has had this impulse around kids, but hopefully your desire to be an educator and patience wins out more often than not.
In the long run, everyone will be grateful for the opportunity to learn and teach in the kitchen. Seeing how far my baby cousins had come in the kitchen was certainly one of the things I was most thankful for this holiday.
As we enter the new year and health is on our mind, teaching your kids (or yourself how to cook) is one of the best things you can do to invest in health long after resolution season. Here are a few safe ways you can get kids of any age involved in the kitchen beyond baking cookies and frosting cupcakes:
- Scissors: For younger kids, a big sharp knife might still be a bit scary for small hands but a lot can be done with a good pair of scissors. Snipping ends off of beans, making lettuce bite sized, cutting peppers into strips, chopping green onions and other herbs are all activities that are scissor friendly.
- Measuring ingredients: Let your kids use measuring spoons and cups for sauces, vinaigrettes, and spice mixes. This is also a great introduction to fractions.
- Fun tools with buttons: Salad spinners, immersion blenders, and food processor have big buttons that kids love to press, and any parent knows that kids can not resist pressing on things that make noise.
- Marinating and tenderizing meats: This was my main job as a kid. I’d get to sprinkle seasonings on a piece of meat and then tenderize it with a fork. If your kid can play Hungry, Hungry Hippo, they can do this.
- Ask their opinion: Kids love it when you give them responsibility that they don’t expect. A good way to do this is include them in the decision making process whether it’s asking, “What vegetable should we make for dinner?” to “Do you think this needs more salt?”
Those are just a few suggestions, and I’d love for you to share your ideas on how to get kids involved in the kitchen in the comments below. Of course feel free to pin the ones we’ve come up with below.
Also, have you all heard of the game Telestrations? It provided us with hours of fun in between prepping and cooking.