I am often asked when the right time to start cooking with children and my response is simple. Now. It is like the old saying, “When is the best time to plant a tree ?, thirty years ago; when is the second best time? Now!” Similarly, it is ideal to start an interest in food and being in the kitchen when children are really young – but if you have not done that, and indeed many of us have not, now is definitely the second best time.
I am not suggesting you swing into a major campaign to make them totally competent cooks. But I am saying, if there is any glimmer of interest then encourage it. And if there is no interest, then look for ways to create it. It might be something as simple as involving them in deciding to have for dinner or asking them to stir or cut something while you fix their favorite meal. Children need to feel confident to cook in order to reach the ultimate goal of healthy food for kids, cooked by the kids.
From my perspective, as a parent I want to give my kids as many advantages in life as I can. I want my kids to be able to cook because success in any skill builds self esteem and cooking is absolutely no exception. I believe that importing food skills also fosters personal responsibility so I feel confident that they will be better equipped to look after themselves. They need to be able to cook easy kids recipes.
Cooking is one of those essential life skills – it is like riding a bike, once they have ‘got it’ they are away. Cooking with children may better be described as ‘assembling’ – but that too requires skill. There is little point in expecting children to start from scratch when there are so many fabulous products available. Easy cooking for kids means they still need the basic food skills – how to chop an onion, bake a potato, make an omelette and so on.
An even more compelling reason is that teens that can cook are far more likely to make better food choices and hence healthy meals. Of course, an added bonus if your teen is able to cook a meal then you are able to get the odd night off!
My children like it when I give them some space, freedom to choose what to cook and let them go for it! I think this is good part developing independence. Although they usually like it if I am around so I can answer any questions. If you think a meal is too much, involve them to stir frying vegetables or mashing potatoes. Step one has got to be interest, before you can move on to engagement and participation.
I have found with many parents that deal-making works well. Along the lines of “If I do this for you, could you possibly make dinner”. You may be surprised to find how teenagers respond to this, many are masters of negotiation in other things so they will quickly work it out. My son used to cook a meal in return for money to go to a movie, and my daughter would cook us a fabulous meal if she wanted to borrow the car!
I laugh when my children say one of the main reasons that they wanted to be able to cook was because it saved them leverage. If that is what motivates them, then that is fine. After all, I am teaching them a skill for a lifetime and they are getting what they want – a win: win for everyone.