The year-end holidays are the perfect opportunity to engage the entire family in the kitchen. Some health professionals worry that today’s youth are missing out on learning how to cook. Once on their own, few young adults know how to do more than boil an egg, make toast, or make boxed macaroni and cheese, so take advantage of this special time together to teach lifelong cooking and nutrition skills and family recipes.
It’s tempting to have the kids only make cookies and desserts at this time of year, but also seize the opportunity to teach them how to contribute to making family meals. If relatives are visiting, invite everyone to help. To start, have everyone wash their hands while counting to 20 or singing Happy Birthday. Children with long hair should pull it up into a hair band.
Very young children are good with their hands and can help wash produce, peel fruit and tear lettuce, snap beans, stir and toss cold ingredients, sift flour, sprinkle raisins, and crumble cheese. They are terrific assembly artists and can pour dry ingredients from measuring cups.
Elementary school children can progress to chopping veggies and fruits with strong plastic knives like those made for lettuce, and using other kitchen gadgets such as garlic clove rolls, garlic presses, vegetable peelers, apple section dividers, melon ball scoops, and rolling pins. They may also want to attempt layering salads, or lasagna and scooping liquid into baking cups and pans. They can also use a butter knife to make their own sandwiches and cut fruits and cooked veggies.
Middle school children can measure using spoons and cups. They can stir warm liquids on the stove, use a microwave with care, and begin using a mixer with supervision. They may even want to dabble in designing their own pasta dishes with various veggie combinations. Mature students will need a lesson in safe knife skills, including using a sharpening steel. Take kids this age to the grocery store and have them read food labels and prices.
High school students need to be given some basic rules about using the stove, oven, carving knives, blenders, and food processors. They may have an interest in designing family meal menus and recipes and creating grocery lists. Using recipes with minimal ingredients can be a good foundation to practice planning, shopping, and timing meal preparation.
At this time of year, filling jars with dry ingredient mixes for soups or pancakes make fantastic time-saving gifts. Here’s a link to making a few holiday mixes.
Of course, good nutrition principles should be encouraged at any age, as well as using guided patience, because it will get messy. Show everyone how to help clean up, too. Enjoy precious family time together in the kitchen sharing recipes and special meals.