I’ve been sharing pictures of meals that my daughters have made this summer (on FB and IG), and I recently felt the need to clarify. Yes, some of these recipes might seem a little fancy, but my kids were not born with any special cooking talents or knowledge. They’ve just had lots and LOTS of practice … and no matter how old your kids are, it’s never too late to start!
So today, I’m excited to share some tips (including great advice from my teens) to help you get started.
It’s Never Too Late to Start
Let’s say you have a kid in your life who’s never cooked a meal, or even a single dish, or even helped you in the kitchen (and that’s okay!). I would hate for a picture of a crab cake dinner by someone else’s kid make you think that your kid could never do that. Because that’s not true!
The kids out there making crab cakes weren’t born knowing the recipe, and I can attest that my kids have had MANY years of practice cooking (starting with the very basics) in order to get where they are today (making us a full dinner without any adults in the kitchen). Teaching them can be a lot of work at times, and, no matter how old they are it can still create a BIG mess, but it’s so worth it in the end!
By the way, I keep using crab cakes as my example here, but it’s actually a fairly easy dish you could quickly throw together with your kids tonight if you wanted to!
Tips from Me on Getting Started
Here are some things we’ve done, and currently do, in our house to keep our kids involved in the kitchen! When it comes to cooking, it’s true, practice makes perfect. 🙂
- START SMALL: HELPER TASKS
If your kid is not ready or old enough to take on a meal all by themselves, there are SO MANY helper tasks to help get their feet wet at the counter … this is how they’ll learn! When my girls were as little as 18 months old I had them standing on a chair, right next to me, stirring pancake batter.
Older Kids Can…
- Grate cheese
- Wash produce
- Chop foods (start with soft foods and a dull knife)
- Knead dough
- Crack eggs
- Peel veggies
- Measure out ingredients
- Stir hot items in a pan/pot on the stovetop (with close supervision)
Quick Story: The other day, my daughter’s 15-year-old friend came over to visit when I was busy cutting raw chicken for dinner, and it was on my hands. My daughter was momentarily occupied and her friend was standing there, so I said to her, “Do you mind stirring those veggies in the pan on the stove for me?” She was like, “Oh okay … like this?” while she very robotically held the pan and slowly moved the spoon around. That was clearly her first time! I was secretly so excited that, due to the circumstances, I asked for her help, and she got to have that first experience cooking at the stove. It’s so fun for kids to try new things and also a confidence builder (when it goes well)! I gave her a few tips, and she did a great job keeping my veggies from getting burnt until I could clean my hands.
- PUT YOUR KID IN CHARGE OF DINNER ONCE A WEEK
Off and on since my kids were in elementary school we’ve had them each be “in charge of dinner” one night a week. This means they pick the dinner and make it! I sometimes have to say, “That’s not a complete meal, you need a vegetable,” but that’s all part of the learning process. Back then I used to help more, but now they’ve learned enough to make the meal on their own. Bonus: You always know this will be a dinner they will actually eat!
- CHOOSE: COOK OR CLEAN (best new rule ever!)
When the world shut down back in March, I told my kids that every night they either have to cook, help cook, or clean up after dinner. Most people don’t get too excited about cleaning so, in the case of my children, they often chose cooking just to get out of cleaning. And I love it! Because, unless it’s their night to be in charge (see tip above), I’m usually heading up dinner and this means I get to spend that time with them! We listen to music and talk while we’re chopping away, and I usually give them the “fun jobs” even if I like those too (haha). This time together is one of those rare and coveted things only moms of teens can truly understand … even if I have to sort of bribe them into doing it, LOL. 🙂
- RECIPES MY KIDS COOKED THIS SUMMER (collage pictured above, starting at top/left)
I don’t have links for all the things my kids have made because the recipes come from all over the place … cookbooks (sometimes my own!), magazines, blogs, etc. Either they pick them out or see something I’ve pulled out of a magazine and say they want to make it themselves (because remember, they’d rather do that than clean—see tip above!). 🙂
Tips from my Teens for Beginner Cooks!
ADVICE FROM MY 13-YEAR-OLD:
Everyone has to start somewhere. You can’t try to cook a super complicated meal if you don’t even know how to chop an onion! My biggest piece of advice is to not stress about making a super fancy dish. Start small and learn the basics of cooking first. I’m surprised all the time when my friends don’t know how to do things in the kitchen when it’s second nature to me because I’ve been cooking since I was a little kid. It’s never too late to start something new though, and you don’t have to be a pro on your first try. Cooking is a skill that you build on, I learn new techniques and tricks all the time! Even the best of the best can still learn something new. Most importantly, don’t lose faith in yourself! You’ve got this!!!
- Start small
- Learn the basics
- Go over a recipe before you make it
- Follow the recipe
- Don’t get discouraged if you mess up
- If you are unsure of how to do something, Google it
- Learn proper technique, bad habits are hard to break
- Don’t give up!
ADVICE FROM MY 15-YEAR-OLD:
- Review the recipe before you make it. Key things to look out for include:
- Do I have all the ingredients?
- Do I need to have something cooked in advance (such as chicken if you were to make chicken salad)?
- Do I have to marinate meat or let something rise before I can begin?
- Do I have to let it set like cheesecake or chocolate mousse? A good indicator is if the recipe says something like, “active time-15 minutes, set time-2 hours.”
- Trust the recipe and Google instructions you don’t understand.
Don’t overwhelm yourself with the idea of cooking for the first time, just read the directions and follow them. That’s all you have to do to make the food look like it does in the picture!
Also, you can’t follow the recipe if you don’t know what something means. For example, if you are baking cookies for the first time and the recipe instructs you to “fold the chocolate chips into the batter” or “whip the egg whites till firm,” don’t just ignore it or take your best guess. YouTube is your friend. Google what you are not sure about and type something like “chef example” or “cooking skill” to make sure your results are on track.
- Layout your prepped ingredients before getting started.
If a recipe calls for two cloves of minced garlic, then chop it, put it into a little bowl, and place it on the counter. It may create more dirty dishes this way, but if you are new to cooking it is a great way to ensure minimal mistakes. Sometimes recipes call for things to be added to a sauce rapid-fire … such as, add ginger, then 30 seconds later add a tablespoon of soy sauce. You might not be familiar with using the measuring spoons yet, take too long, and burn your ginger! I sometimes cook this way if the recipe is complicated and calls for a lot of ingredients, such as Stir Fry or a Japanese soup. In France, they call this “mise en place.”
- Allow yourself extra time.
My friend is very new to cooking and says it sometimes can take him an hour or more for a 15-minute recipe because he is so worried about messing something up and getting everything correct. This is very normal for people new to cooking, and you should expect it as well. It is much better to spend the extra hour making sure you are doing it correctly than stressfully rushing around to meet the assumed time and messing up the food and having to throw it away. Don’t be afraid to take it slow.
- Read the recipe carefully and consider rewriting the directions.
Re-read the instructions a couple of times before getting started. If there is a big paragraph explaining the order in which to add ingredients to the pan, maybe jot it down and the time to do so on a sticky note to help you remember. I do that sometimes.
- Understand your ingredients.
You also want to make sure you are not confusing ingredients. For example, cilantro and parsley look almost identical, but taste different and are generally used for different things (the way to tell those apart is that parsley leaves are pointy while cilantro leaves are more rounded). We have an older book called “Food Lovers Companion” that teaches you about your ingredients, where to find them, how to make sure they are ready, and how to store them once you’ve cooked them. You can also Google this information. Another example is how baking powder and baking soda start with the same word and look similar. If you accidentally switch the two and use too much or all baking soda instead, your dish will have a harsh unwanted flavor, as baking powder is much milder than baking soda. So, again, take your time and don’t be in a rush!
- Don’t worry about small mistakes when cooking, although baking does need to be more exact.
It’s generally okay to mess up a small bit when you are cooking things, for example too much pepper will just increase the spice and not make the dish raw or dangerous. When you bake, it does need to be more exact. Baking is more like a chemical equation, with rising and the ratios of ingredients. A good tip for that is to scrape off excess from your dry measuring cup with a knife so it is perfectly flat across the top. Dry measuring cups usually look like a cylinder while wet measuring cups tend to be glass or clear and look more like a pitcher with a spout. It’s better to use the dry cups for dry things like flour and the wet cups for wet things like milk. While the volumes are the same, it can make your measuring more accurate.
I hope that helps! Good luck and don’t ever be afraid to try something new. You can’t succeed if you don’t try.
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