When my oldest son was 12 years old, I look at him on Thanksgiving morning and told him I didn’t want to cook the turkey so he was going to have to do it. With 14 people expected for Thanksgiving dinner, we had a good size bird that needed to be prepared.
After a brief exchange, where I had to assure him I was not kidding, he grabbed his computer, watched a couple of Youtube videos, and got started.
I was on hand to lend advice and answer questions, but he cooked the turkey himself, and it was amazing.
I feel very strongly that my sons need to learn to cook, and I work towards this goal on a regular basis. If I had daughters, I would teach them, too.
I have followed these steps to make sure that they know their way around the kitchen.
My littlest spends time in the kitchen cutting up fruit and stirring. He’s my helper as long as his attention span allows. I allow him to come and go as he pleases to reinforce the idea that cooking is fun and not a chore (even though it can be, at times!)
Embrace the mess.
If there’s a mess during the cooking process or ingredients are spilled, let it go. You can clean up afterward. Broken dishes can be replaced, but harsh words cannot be taken back.
Let them decide what to cook.
Letting the kids decide what to cook solves two problems at once: deciding what’s for dinner and actually making it. I’ve found that having a couple cookbooks around can be more helpful than telling them to go on the internet. The boundless choices presented by cooking websites is often overwhelming.
An additional benefit is that they’ll pick a dinner that they’ll be more likely to eat.
Have them decided in advance so you can make sure you have all the ingredients on hand.
Have them make the shopping list.
This is a valuable learning experience. Several times, my kids have given me a list of ingredients that were incorrect or incomplete. They learned the importance of carefully reading recipes, and they learned that there are ways to adapt to missing ingredients.
Enlist others to help.
My middle son and I go on an annual visit to one of my friends. He cooks with her while he’s there. Being a chef, she can teach him much more than I ever cook.
Grandparents are great resources, too. In this case, it’s an opportunity to pass down family recipes and cooking techniques. Plus, it creates great memories for the kids.
Let them fail.
Not everything they make will turn out well. That’s okay. That’s part of cooking and that’s part of life. Stay calm and order a pizza.
Praise the effort, not the result.
This goes for most things that kids do, but in this case it’s important to let them know that you see them working hard. Let them be confident and stay out of the way as much as possible (in age appropriate ways, of course).
Let them be ambitious.
Once they’ve decided on a recipe, let them do it. You’ll be amazed by how much they’re capable of.
Allow extra time.
Depending on age and how much experience they have, things that would take you very little time will take them a very long time. Plan for this. I have often marveled at how long it can take my boys to make a boxed cake (fyi — 45 minutes, before cooking). Take deep breaths and remind yourself that they will be faster next time.
Have them invite friends over to eat what they’ve made.
Depending on their age, they may old their eyes and say that their parents forced them to cook, but if you watch them carefully you’ll see a look of pride on their faces.
Keep the goal in mind.
In my case, the goal is for them to go to college and be able to feed themselves more than macaroni and cheese or ramen (although those are perfectly acceptable choices, occasionally).
Remember to laugh.
Keep it fun.