"Oh I never let my kids in the kitchen. I'm too afraid they would get hurt."
This response came to me during a cooking class I was teaching at my church. This woman's daughter (who was a senior in high school) had babysat my children the night before. The teen called me during my date to ask me how to fix the dinner I had left on the kitchen counter: a box of macaroni and cheese and a plate of fruit.
I was shocked. Was this mother serious. She also had other children at or about to enter the teen years. None of them knew how to cook? I took a quick pool of the other women in the group. Out of all of their children, no one really knew their way around the kitchen. How were those kids going to survive the first time on their own? The first mom replied that she learned to cook after she got married.
I was asked about my own children and when they started learning how to cook. My answer? "As soon as they can stand." Kids love to participate in the kitchen. Cooking and nutrition are important skills to master. It is also a great way to spend time with your kids. Here is my timetable of when kids should learn certain skills:
The Love Magnet, age 4, helping to make oatmeal cookies in 2007.
Ages 2-7: Kids love to dump, pour, stir, drop, and make messes. I keep kid-size aprons around because I know that when I pull out the cookie pans, my youngest will be pulling up a chair so she will be tall enough to help me.
Age 8: this is the magic age in my kitchen when my kids get their first real cooking lesson. I always start with spaghetti....without a recipe and without commercially prepared sauce. Sauce-from-a-jar tastes too sweet to me. So I teach the kids how to create their own tomato sauce with plain canned tomato sauce and adding fresh garlic, anchovy paste, and spices. My kids really get into it and love to come up with their own blend of secret spices. Some are amazing.......others not so much. (The year Firstborn used cinnamon and nutmeg in his tomato sauce will go down in family legend). Wednesday night is always spaghetti night at my house and one of the kids does the cooking. When spaghetti is mastered, then cookies and brownies from scratch follow (dessert for Spaghetti night!) followed by grilled cheese sandwiches and scrambling eggs. After that, I let the kids browse my cookbook collection or watch cooking shows to come up with the next recipe they want to try. They usually want to try their favorite foods.
Ages 8-12: Knife skills! When I cook, I turn my kids into sous chefs and let them take care of the veggies and fruits. I can monitor them for safety and demonstrate when they need it. The kids need to pass of knife skills as part of their Scouts program so it does double duty.
Age 12: By this time my kids they can follow most recipes. For breads, I always start with biscuits, muffins, and quick breads, followed by yeast breads. This is also the time to learn cakes from scratch. That way, when the child comes to me at 10:00 at night and tells me he needs cake/cookies/baked treat for school the next day, I can reply "Great! You know where they ingredients are. Be sure to clean up the kitchen before you go to bed." WOOT!
Secondborn making his famous baconated deviled eggs at Grandma's, Thanksgiving 2010.
My kids are making me proud in the kitchen. Firstborn (age 18) makes an incredible grilled pork loin with a mustard/vinegar sauce that tastes restaurant quality. Secondborn (14) loves making deviled eggs in all their variations. Thirdborn (10) once chose to make pink lemonade cupcakes for a book report (In the book The Seven Silly Eaters, the family made a pink lemonade birthday cake). Even The Love Magnet (8) loves to help in the kitchen. She is still at the dump/pour stage, but I plan on letting her learn knife skills when she has better manual dexterity. Having Down syndrome, we take things slower with her, but we still treat her the same as her brothers. She wants to learn how to cook, too.
Bring your kids into the kitchen and make some memories!