When our kids turn nine they receive a cookbook and a night of the week to cook. The cookbook is homemade and includes ten menus (main dish and side dishes) that this child will learn to cook and all the recipes other kids already have in their cookbooks (yes, we add the ten new recipes to the older children’s cookbooks as well). I also add a few recipes that are family traditions: Grandmother’s Chocolate Cake, Pop Pop’s Crepes, Mamaw’s Coffee Cake, Mom Mom’s Cream Eggs, Grandma’s Butternut Squash Casserole… you know, the important stuff.
I use a small binder and plastic page protectors and it is arranged alphabetically, not by category. Maybe we’ll add categories later, but for now alphabetical order works for us.
Initially, I work with the child in the kitchen, instructing and guiding. At some point we transition to a place where I oversee, later I’m nearby as a resource. Eventually they can cook the whole meal alone and I can be away, if needed.
The ten menus are ones my child has selected from recipes we already enjoy.
Why ten? If I rotate through their recipes, one per week, we aren’t repeating anything any more often than once every ten weeks. In reality, with birthdays, holidays, vacations, and other departures from the schedule, it amounts to about once per quarter. That is often enough to gain mastery over their recipes, but not so often we become sick of eating their favorite foods.
Why menus we already enjoy? I learned this the hard way – with our first child I went online and picked several “5 Ingredient Recipes.” They were simple to make, that was true. But they often used foods we were not used to buying and tended to incorporate a lot of processed foods that were high in salt and more expensive than from-scratch versions. We also didn’t really enjoy the outcome, though one or two of the recipes did become favorites.
Most important, I realized my child was probably not going to set up house as an adult making “Chicken in a Sleeping Bag” with crescent rolls, deli ham, and dinosaur nuggets. It’s a fun recipe we might pull out again if we have a dinosaur-themed sleepover, but I decided it wasn’t a recipe that would make it over the long haul.
That’s when I decided we needed to pick “real” recipes. Recipes of foods we already enjoy at our house or when we visit family and friends. I pick recipes that also allow for a growing set of kitchen skills. Sloppy Joes for instance – following a recipe, opening cans, browning meat, draining grease, measuring, turning a cook top on and off, etc. We serve them with hamburger buns, Fritos Scoops, cold veggies and Ranch Dip. The veggies and ranch dip require preparation, too. Washing, peeling, cutting, measuring, mixing well… I bet you never realized how many skills are required for a simple meal like Sloppy Joes. I didn’t either!
We don’t always eat Sloppy Joes. Actually, eating them once a quarter is an increase for us. My kids also make things like Chicken Pot Pie, Beef Burgundy in Bread Bowls with Spinach Salad, Tenderloin Salad, Chicken Tikka Masala, Chili, French Dip Roast, and Beef Stroganoff. We have broiled fish, grilled steaks, and fried pork chops. We also make pizza, grilled sandwiches, a variety of soups, and 7-Layer Dip. Every meal isn’t a “company meal,” but each child has a couple of meals that work well for company. Since we do a lot of freezer cooking, I can buy in bulk, which helps keep it all affordable. And yes, if they are nine or older, they help with freezer cooking, too. Each child learns to prepare their recipes from scratch or to the point where we freeze it, and then from frozen.
My kids enjoy helping in the kitchen long before they turn nine, so I was surprised by how much initial instruction my children needed in little things that I take for granted. And I am surprised all over again every time one of our kids turns nine.
Based upon my experience with our first four nine-year olds, I created the following list of needed kitchen skills. It is by no means exhaustive, though it is a little exhausting to think about! But remember, they are going to learn these things little by little as their skills grow, and they may already have mastered many of them.
Needed Kitchen Skills (in alphabetical order, not order of importance or introduction):
- Assemble and use a hand mixer
- Assemble and use a stand mixer – including adding ingredients in stages without dusting the kitchen with flour 🙂
- Brown meat
- Change the position of an oven rack
- Choose a position for the oven rack
- Choose a cooking temperature for oven or cook top
- Cook pasta (boil water first, then add pasta)
- Cook potatoes (baked, fried, boiled – and boiled whole vs. sliced vs. diced)
- Core fruit
- Crack an egg
- Crumble soft cheeses
- Drain fat from meat
- Drain water from a pan/use a colander
- Food safety guidelines (cooking temperatures, how long food can sit out, how many days it can last, freezer rules)
- Grate/shred cheese and other foods
- Grease a pan
- Grease and flour/sugar a pan
- Hard boil eggs
- Identify heat-tolerant utensils (wooden spoons, silicone vs. rubber scrapers, metal/plastic spatulas, etc.)
- Identify non-stick cookware and “dark or coated pans,” and utensils which are safe to use with each
- Knife skills (which side is the blade, how to hold, sharpening, keeping fingers out of the way, cut across the grain vs. with the grain, slice, dice, chunk, chop)
- Know which dishes are oven, microwave, and dishwasher safe
- Line baking pan with parchment paper
- Measure accurately
- Open cans (pop top, with electric can opener, hand opener, biscuit cans, etc.)
- Pan fry foods (fried chicken, pork chops, cutlets for other recipes)
- Peel fruit (apples, oranges, bananas, pineapple, kiwi – they all require different skills)
- Peel hard-boiled eggs
- Poach eggs
- Preheat an oven
- Properly seal with a Food Saver, if you have one
- Put something in the oven
- Read a recipe
- Recognize boil, simmer, scald, and room temperature
- Recognize different kinds of bakeware (baking sheet, jelly roll pan, cake pan, glass baking dishes, souffle dishes, casserole dishes, pie plates, etc.)
- Recognize different kinds of pans (skillet, sauce pan, stock pot, griddle, dutch oven, cast iron, etc.) and how to find the size of the pan
- Remove something from the heat.
- Rinse blades from blender/food processor/slicers, etc.
- Roll dough, cookies, pastry
- Saute meat
- Skillet cook eggs (scramble, fry, over easy, sunny side up, omelet, etc.)
- Soft boil eggs
- Spray a pan with the appropriate amount of cooking oil
- Take something out of the oven
- Test food for doneness (cakes, cookies, brownies, pies, bread, meat, casseroles/lasagna, etc.)
- Turn on/off the cook top (gas and electric require different techniques)
- Use a blender and/or food processor
- Use a cheese slicer
- Use a crock pot, if you have one
- Use a microwave, if you have one
- Use a toaster oven, if you have one
- Use a pop-up toaster, if you have one
- Use a vegetable peeler
- Use a waffle maker, if you have one
- Use an egg/mushroom slicer
- Use an electric skillet or griddle, if you have one
- Use kitchen thermometers (oven, meat, candy, etc.)
- Use saran wrap, foil, and zipper close bags
- Use the broiler (gas and electric differ in significant ways)
- Use trivets, hot pads, and oven mitts
- Washing fruit & vegetables (apples, berries, potatoes, carrots, etc.)
If you are looking for ways to get your kids involved in the kitchen – pick a few skills from the list above to get you started. Then pay attention when you are cooking to recipes that use some of the other skills. Invite your kids to join you as you cook, and remember to verbalize what you are doing, and why. Oh – and keep it fun. 🙂