By the time kids are 10 or so, their reading skills are generally solid and they have enough focus to follow a recipe from start to finish. They have enough fine motor control to learn to use a knife safely, and can be taught to be careful taking things out of the oven. In addition to the skills mentioned in previous posts (see above), here are some skills that I try to make sure my kids begin to learn around this age:
~~-Chop and brown onions. If you can chop and brown an onion, you’ve mastered the first steps of literally thousands of recipes. Here’s a good onion-chopping tutorial. When it comes to browning onions, the most important thing to teach kids is to let the skillet get medium hot before adding the oil and onions, then NOT stir until some of the onion develops some browning. Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll be able to smell when browning begins. Then it is time to stir briefly and let the onions brown some more. Properly browned onions adds lots of rich flavor to recipes, and all it takes is watching by someone willing to stand over the stove for a few minutes.
~~Make Ramen with veggies. Yeah, I know — ramen will never be health food. But kids love it, it’s exceedingly easy to cook, and by adding some veggies you can actually make it healthier and more flavorful. Jazzy Ramen Stir-fry is a favorite at our house. Feel free to adapt to your kid’s tastes by using veggies that he or she likes.
~~Make biscuits. Here’s my favorite recipe. The biggest trick with biscuits is to not over-mix. Blend just enough to get a cohesive dough, then quit and form your biscuits. Once kids get the touch for that, they can be expert biscuit-makers.
~~Make Cookies. For their first independent recipes, I usually start kids off with cookies, since they are high-interest, and fairly forgiving. Have kids start by getting out all the ingredients so they won’t miss anything. Be sure to explain the importance of mixing baking soda, baking powder and flour very well before adding wet ingredients. And for best success, do have them set the butter out an hour ahead of time so that it can be mixed in while at room temperature.
If you’re one of those folks who has varying success with your chocolate chip cookies, be sure to click on the picture to the left. It links to a website that explains how to make great chocolate cookies step by step, and describes how to avoid common cookie problems.
~~ Bake bread. Yes, really. Here’s a ridiculously easy recipe for a crisp artisan-style bread that even a younger child can make. Or if you don’t have the dutch oven required in that recipe, try this recipe for oatmeal bread.
Really, with kids over 10 who can read and follow directions, the sky is the limit when it comes to cooking. Their enthusiasm will usually be highest if you let them tell you what they’re interested in trying. A couple of my daughters baked cookies for years simply because they loved it. But even uninterested kids get cooking assignments at our house.
Another daughter was markedly uninterested in cooking in any form. Since I wanted her to gain skill (and I knew she enjoyed eating cookies), I assigned cookie-baking to her every week for several months until she mastered it. Now she can whip through a cookie recipe in no time flat, and has actually begun to enjoy it. I’m moving her on to bread-baking next, and for the next few months plan to give cookie-baking to my 13 year old son who doesn’t have that skill learned well yet.
Along with systematically giving kids practice at recipes on their own, I also routinely break down dinners into smaller chunks, asking each kid to do a portion. For example, if I’m gone doing errands just before meal time, I’ll often call home and ask one kid to set water on to boil, another to cut an onion, and another to brown a pound of ground beef. By the time I get home half an hour later, preparation for a spaghetti dinner is well under way, and is easy for me to finish. And whether kids realize it or not, having helped with even a small portion of the meal gives them an awareness of what it takes to make that particular meal, as well as the ability to see cooking as doable instead if mysterious.
How about you? How do you train your older kids to cook?
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