One afternoon several years ago, I told the kids we all needed to pitch in to clean the house; guests were due to arrive within the hour. I assigned each girl one bathroom, handing off sponges and cleansers to get the job done. A short while later, I popped in on each of them to check on their progress. They were earnestly at work, but didn’t look like they’d made a dent in restoring the sparkle to the tile and chrome of our bathrooms. The youngest, Virginia, looked perplexed and finally said,

“Mom, well, I don’t really know how to clean a toilet.”

It quickly occurred to me that of course she didn’t know how to clean a toilet, or any other part of a bathroom for that matter. I’d never taught her. Unlike breathing or breastfeeding, scrubbing tile isn’t exactly instinctive.

And nor is cooking. Your children may absorb some familiarity with meal prep simply by being in the kitchen. But really, unless we teach our kids to cook, they won’t know how. They will arrive in their first apartment with a set of cheap knives from Target without a clue as to how to use them.

Arming your kids with skills at the stove has enormous upsides, some of which benefit us parents rather nicely. Cooking with your kids:

Will up the likelihood that they’ll eat what’s on the table, even healthy foods. This includes vegetable they heretofore said they didn’t like. I’ve witnessed this first hand amongst dozens of kids I’ve taught in cooking classes. It’s also the case in food education programs such as Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard. Got picky kids? Get them cooking.

Will provide practical learning opportunities: math skills as they measure, reading as they rattle off a recipe, logic as they follow directions, geography as they travel the culinary globe, art as they tinker with presentation.

Will give them a life skill that may make them healthier adults. People who cook and eat at home, eat more nutritiously than those who don’t.

Will give you one more way to connect. Having your child grate cheese as you assemble veggie enchiladas may be the best quality time you have all day.

Will lighten your load. Being able to turn to your 10-year-old and ask him to make and dress the salad means one less dinnertime chore for you to tackle.

Will foster independence and give them confidence to know that they are quite capable of doing for themselves.

and perhaps most importantly…

Will prepare them to one day, hopefully, cook for you. When they’re adults, they will come to your house and make you delicious food as you relax with a glass of wine. I know because this is what my brother and sister and I do for my mom. She is still a wonderful cook, but she doesn’t have to lift a finger if she doesn’t feel like it.

The question now is, where to start? I’ll get to that next week with a game plan for putting your desire to teach the kids to cook into action. In the meantime, start by inviting them to help plan a meal this week. Pour over a favorite cookbook, cooking website, or blog. Ask them to pick out a recipe and help write up a shopping list of ingredients.

If you cook with your kids already, do tell.

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  1. 11.07.2012 at 4:21 AM #

    I just retweeted this! Great advice. I look forward to hearing your next week post. You have great, practical advice for families.
    I haven’t met you personally, but I am a registered dietitian too! I also have three girls. I hope to connect one day. I am new to Twitter and you can follow me @jacquelynstern.

    • katiemorford
      11.07.2012 at 7:19 AM #

      Thanks Jacquelyn. I’ll go find you on Twitter now! Nice to “meet” you.

  2. Kendra
    11.07.2012 at 5:23 AM #

    Will read your blog for the first time today before school. Seeing the girls making a pie caught his interest. I had just asked him to give me an idea of what he might want for dinner. After reading he said how about your chicken enchiladas and we can add a few veggies. He plans to grate the cheese!

    • katiemorford
      11.07.2012 at 7:18 AM #

      Cute! Go Will.

  3. Anne Mullen
    11.07.2012 at 6:48 AM #

    As usual, you’re so right, and I didn’t do that with my kids because it was easier to do it myself at the time. I’m so sorry now. Though both of them can cook, neither loves it (as you know with Kate). I didn’t learn when I was young, so perhaps that’s why I didn’t start them early. It’s a really important life skill, and much better when you enjoy it.

    • katiemorford
      11.07.2012 at 7:20 AM #

      I agree Anne, that enjoying it is big. Makes it all so much more fun.

  4. 11.07.2012 at 9:32 AM #

    Katie, This is such great advice. My older daughter took on the responsibility of making lunches for herself and her sister when she was in 3rd grade and she still does it without prompting or complaining. We do pay her $1/lunch but what was a way for me to get rid of a every day chore urned out to be a great lesson on planning, food stocking, menu planning, and of course creating a healthy mix of foods that satisfies the little sister. I have been amazed by all the life lessons I have bestowed upon her without even knowing it :) – Humaira

    • katiemorford
      11.07.2012 at 9:38 AM #

      You make an important point. Teaching kids to cook doesn’t just mean dinner. Learning to prep their breakfast and lunch are opportunities too.

  5. 04.03.2013 at 5:05 PM #

    Great thoughts. Beyond the cooking, it can be a bear to get kids to do “chores” but sometimes the approach alone is the trick. Another “tactic” is to help the kids understand that it isn’t just busy work and that it is important (in my experience kids want to be helpful but not “occupied”). Letting kids know that they are a part of a process that is truly important can be a help. Keep up the work!

    • katiemorford
      04.03.2013 at 8:17 PM #

      Great point. Agreed!


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