Your little shadow Expose them to new tastes, smells, and kitchen sensory experiences. Let Them pour beans into jars, help you chop, yes, teach them to safely use a knife by age three. Help you with everything... Talk to them about what you’re doing, ask them "What’s next?" questions. squish, mold, stir, pat… Take them to the market, a farmer’s market is even better. Introduce them to the vegetables play naming games. Plant food with them, gather eggs, go see the cows and goats. Make ferments, kefir, bread... The kitchen is a rich exploratory and engaging place for a young child. The four, five and six year olds love to make experiments, try to cook what they’re reading in their storybooks, have tea parties, and make special meals. They love to arrange food beautifully for their snacks.
Seven to Eleven
Mastering Skills Competency and Creativity are what motivate these ages. Mastering a technique through practice. Making bread, crepes, waffles, soup….following a recipe, then not following the recipe. Looking into other culture's cooking, trying new food experiences. But remember on their schedule not yours. They love ritual, rhythm, consistency, and rules: setting the table beautifully, table etiquette, family meals, feasts and holidays, the family’s favorite foods. Give them a task and let them do it while you're doing something else. They make the salad, they prep the soup, they set the table, they do dishes. Give them mini lessons as you see the need, or when they ask. Don’t hover, but expect them to be gaining skill and confidence. All this being said, I can’t emphasis enough how slow, clumsy, dreamy, unfocused and messy they will seem to you! They are because they’re children, it’s a stage, expect it. If you need things to move fast, then do that part yourself. It’s just like taking a walk with a two year old, they could care less about getting somewhere, they just want to experience everything along the way! A child’s brain is not the adult brain they're a different animal, so slow down and enjoy them.
Twelve to Sixteen
Independent Cooks If they’ve been cooking all along, they'll be good cooks by this time. Let them cook for you, sit back and enjoy it. Continue to give mini lessons on the finer points or new skills. Begin expanding their horizons. Read and dream over cookbooks together, watch cooking flicks, go to exotic markets, eat in special places. Cook together often, daily if you can. It’s a great way to talk and share time together.
Sixteen & Up
Lives Of Their Own My three children are all good cooks, but with my 22 year old son who's in college, I followed my own advice, mostly, although I wish I'd have been more patient, not hovered as much, and realized that every stage passes into the next. He’s now an excellent cook, who makes bread, cooks whole foods, forages wild foods, ferments and completely astounds his friends who can’t open a can. What I cherish most is our cooking relationship, how when he comes home we cook together, and talk, share, and eat. He’s forming his own culinary ways yet carrying our traditions with him.
Cooking is a Choreographed Kitchen Dance
My husband and I have frequent breakfast conversations about teaching people to cook. I’m continually explaining how much of cooking must be in your muscle memory if you want to cook with flow, and not be utterly frustrated and confined to recipes. One morning, I mimed all the kitchen dance motions involved in just making scrambled eggs and he the dancer got it.
Cooking is in my Bones
Like swimming or riding a bicycle, it’s a challenge to try to learn to cook as an adult. I’m lucky that cooking is in my bones. I was baking applesauce cake without help at Grandma’s house, while she worked out in the garden at age 7. I regularly cooked dinner by myself for parents and three brothers at age nine. I remember a menu I made quite often: honey lemon chicken, a tossed salad and homemade dinner muffins. I had the table set, and dinner ready by the time my mother got home from work, not that I wasn’t messy, or did it perfectly! What I’m saying is that the kitchen dance is in my muscle memory. You can put whatever food you want in front of me and I can dance it.
"Cooking with kids is not just about ingredients, recipes, and cooking. It's about harnessing imagination, empowerment, and creativity. " Guy Fieri
Developing Cooking Compassion
When I first started to teach cooking I came with a big bag of assumptions about people’s basic cooking skills. I thought they were coming to me to expand their range, not to learn how to chop an onion, or even hold a knife. It’s taken me eight years to realize that others might not have had the same training, and daily practice that I’ve had. That what’s simple to me, might be overwhelming to them. I’ve had to develop cooking compassion. On the one hand, I’m trying to develop kitchen compassion, to meet people where they need to begin. One the other hand, I burn anger and utter bewilderment at a culture that does not automatically teach its children to cook. That parents with children might not have a clue about how to feed their families. Why? What has gone wrong? What is the solution? How do we support cooking literacy early on?
Is Cooking Still considered Anti-Feminist?
A young woman of 25 recently told me that many woman her age still view cooking as a demeaning anti-feminist activity. They weren’t taught to cook so they could be better than that. A doctor acquaintance in town, confided how much it hurts her not to be able to cook for her children, but she was never taught, and it feels too daunting now to learn. I’ve had several widowers in my classes, men who were always cooked for, and now want to make good food for themselves. The stories I hold and continue to hear-- about people missing out and trying to catch up on the simple act of making food for themselves, not fancy food, just good homemade food. My hurdle as teacher, is that I can teach you how to make a dish, or even expose you to a complete menu, but all of the practical everyday systems of making good food a daily reality may not be in place at your house.
Cooking isn’t an Iron Chef Competitive Sport
Cooking isn’t an Iron Chef Competitive Sport of Exotic Dishes, it’s a lot of practical forethought, and step by step movements through hundreds of pre-learned sequences. Those sequences take practice, lots of practice. This is why children take piano lessons, or play sports, so they can learn complicated sequencing and get it in their bodies. So much hinges on our ability to step away from those boxes and cans, to be able to grow and cook food that suits our climate, or changing climate, to attend to our cultural soul, and nutritional food needs. Please teach your children to cook, or learn to cook yourself, it’s never too late.If you do know how to cook then teach someone else, especially the children or young adults in your life. Expose children to cooking, and good food early, start them young, let them help, insist and make it a priority, get it in their muscle memories. It’s a simple and delicious way to be part of the solution.