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Are you teaching your kids to cook?

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life, Parenting, cooking


With the focus on childhood obesity and the emphasis on healthy eating, it only makes sense to include your kids when it comes to planning out their meals. But, as all busy parents know, working through a recipe with a tiny helper can make the meal take twice as long (or longer) to prepare—that’s a difficult trade-off when you’re dealing with the witching hour.

A recent article in The New York Times suggested that bringing back home economics classes might be the key to controlling our nation’s obesity epidemic. And I think that’s a great idea.

My middle school and high school didn’t offer home ec, but my parents had me cooking at an early age: I was 10 when my mom opened a restaurant, and she had been baking bread for local restaurants and running a catering business from home for years before that, so I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making messes in the kitchen. I clearly remember arguing, in first grade, that Laura Ingalls Wilder had been allowed to cook over a real fire in “Little House in the Big Woods” when she was 5 and so I should be allowed to use our electric stove unassisted, rather than confining my cooking to things that didn’t require heat. My parents disagreed, but soon after that my dad, a gourmet cook himself, was gamely choking down the overcooked pasta and undercooked vegetables that I’d proudly set on the table.

My childhood is far from today’s norm. “Too many Americans simply don’t know how to cook,” the New York Times article points out. “Our diets, consisting of highly processed foods made cheaply outside the home thanks to subsidized corn and soy, have contributed to an enormous health crisis.” State-, local-, and federal-government led initiatives aren’t having enough of an impact, either; most public schools offer sugar-laden chocolate milk and fake juice in the cafeterias, but not water, and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign “has inspired right-wing panic about a secret food police,” the article points out.

But home ec? At a time when junk-food fills the shelves in corner stores and “food deserts” exist in urban areas, maybe having schools formally teach kids how to make a simple meal or two is something parents can support.

Are you teaching your kids to cook? What’s their favorite thing to make with you, or on their own?

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4 comments so far...

  • Yes, I believe in teaching kids to cook, and I do let my kids help when practical. Unfortunately, I’m not much of a cook and we don’t spend most evenings at home. But I have charged my sister, who sits with them on Sundays, with teaching them. She’s an awesome cook.

    At 4, they don’t really cook anything themselves, but they are learning.

    SKL  |  September 9th, 2011 at 11:41 am

  • i cook with my son when i can (he’s 5) and have been baking with him since um he could stand on a chair. He always helps me bake! (and he can’t wait until his sister is old enough to help, she’s 4 months lol). Now yes, baking may seems counter intuitive, but it’s much more flexible for timing and in the winter I always bake fresh whole grain bread (it’s just too hot in the summer!) and use the dough for anything bread related. I also figure baking sweets is much healthier than buying form the 7-11 down the road and i can control the sugar and use whole grains. Plus he learns measuring and it’s just fun. It also has him wanting to help with dinners (when i get a chance to make something more involved than say pasta and sauce).

    that said - i LOVE the idea of teaching kids basic skills in school. it’s smart. not everyone has someone to learn these skills from at home. basic cooking (and sewing on a button, even) are essential life skills! I ended up taking a cooking class in highschool (i forget what they actually called it) as an elective on a whim and i LOVED IT! (so did my friends, who got to eat the goodies after class!)

    kate  |  September 9th, 2011 at 5:36 pm

  • I had home ec in junior high and we didn’t learn much useful - we made cookies and a lot of other sweets. We also learned to sew a pillow from a kit. I think home ec is better than nothing, especially since so many adults don’t have a clue about cooking, but there needs to be motivation and time to do more..

    That said, I did learn to cook from my mom. We ate at home almost every night, and most things were from scratch. By the time we were 10, we had planned, shopped for, and prepared meals for the family (with guidance). My kids have both done the same. My 9 year old loves to make tossed salad, fruit salad, and crudites, and makes a mean quesadilla. The 11 year old can make an egg sandwich or omelet. They can both make pancakes and French toast, and can cook other things with guidance. Although I work almost full-time, I cook from scratch almost every night and we eat as a family about 90% of the time, schedules permitting.

    akmom  |  September 9th, 2011 at 8:17 pm

  • We have some places that do cooking classes for kids (and adults). Unfortunately the classes for kids are all at an hour of the afternoon that working parents can’t get them there!

    My daughter is interested in cooking (her current life goal is to be a chef) so we do some of it together. And we’ve taken the family classes at the local place. When she’s older if she’s still very interested she can get herself to the shop for classes and really learn if that is still the path she’s looking at.

    Mich  |  September 15th, 2011 at 12:59 pm