Teach Them While They’re Young

9-year-old Alex sautéing onions for Chicken Mini Pies.

Back in the old days (and by that I mean only a few generations ago), it took a lot of work to get a meal on the table and children, by necessity, had to help out. Our great-grandmothers didn’t have fancy shmancy mixers and food processors and bread machines. Their local grocery stores didn’t have aisle upon aisle of packaged processed foods nor could they just go online and order a meal in a box delivered to the homestead by Pony Express. Bread had to be kneaded, fruits and vegetables had to be chopped, and meats had to be prepared all by hand. So, the more hands you had helping, the faster a meal could be prepared.

While children were in the kitchen helping, they were learning valuable life skills. In addition to learning how to cook, how to tend a fire, and how to use knives, children learned organization, leadership, and planning skills. They learned responsibility. And, when children help in the food preparation, they are more likely to eat it, which meant fewer picky eaters.

But somewhere along the way, we stopped including and instructing our children in meal preparation and now we have adults who don’t know how to cook unless it comes out of a box or from the freezer or uses a microwave. I know whole families who eat out three to five times a week. I know kids who believe the only kind of macaroni and cheese is the orange kind that comes out of a blue box.

I understand that we’re all very busy and sometimes it is just easier and faster to do it ourselves. We tell our children, “You run along and play and I’ll get dinner on the table.” I get that. Been there, done that. However, this needs to be the exception and not the rule. We need to get our children into the kitchen on a regular basis whether it’s at home or in camp so they can learn and practice these valuable life skills.

On my Resources page is an Outdoor Cooking Skill Progression, and while it is geared for outdoor cooking it could be easily adapted to the home kitchen.

6-year-old Alex is starting a batch of chocolate chip cookies while his 8-year-old sister Amelia watches.

Even a small child can sit at a table and tear lettuce for a salad or add already measured ingredients to a bowl or assemble sandwiches. As they get into elementary school, teach them knife safety and knife skills. Start them cutting soft foods and progress them up to harder foods. Teach them fire safety and start them at the stove simply heating up a can of soup or making their beloved orange macaroni and cheese from the blue box. When they develop some hand-eye coordination, teach them the fine art of pancake flipping.

Things won’t be done perfectly, and spills and messes may happen. Clean up may take a little longer sometimes. But the skills they are learning will last them their whole life and you’ll be creating fond memories of your time together in the kitchen.

Some of our family’s best memories are in the kitchen cooking together. We started out bumping butts and stepping on each other’s toes as we moved around the kitchen. Today, if you were to observe me and my daughter in our morning routine of making coffee, taking vitamins, and assembling lunches, it would look like a finely choreographed dance as we just instinctively move around each other. Occasionally, we still collide and it usually causes a giggle or two or sometimes results in a mess on the floor, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Someday, when I am old and gray and can no longer hold a knife steady in my hand, I know that I will be well fed by my son and my daughter who both know their way around a kitchen.

Thank you Sonya, who commented on a recent post and inspired me to write this one. Keep up the good fight, girl. Good cooking skills are life skills and important ones to have.

Teach them while they are young and someday they will thank you or, better yet, they will prepare an amazing meal for you.

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From left is cousin Bobby Lynn, Alex, and Amelia at Lake Wenatchee State Park.

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Categories: Cooking Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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