It was in the throws of dealing with a plumbing problem in the the downstairs bathroom of our house that it hit me. I was mid-punge, trying to avoid the splash, when out of nowhere a wave of mild anxiety settled across my consciousness that had nothing at all to do with plumbing and everything to do with my oldest daughter, Isabelle.

“Oh God,” I thought, “does she even know how to use a plunger?”

It’s the sort of worry that seems to be happening with increasing frequency as we stare down the handful (yes, handful) of months that lay between now and the day we deliver her to college in August.

Sniff. Pass the tissues.

This is a girl who knows the history of the influenza virus in perfect detail, can outwit the grown ups in the house in a game of Scrabble or concentration, and can tackle complicated equations in calculus without breaking a sweat.

But, I keep wondering where the gaps are. Does she know how to add bleach to a load of laundry? Or repair a bicycle chain? Or, God forbid, when to get herself to the ER?

There are so many tasks to tackle; it can put me into a tailspin as I wonder about all the places Mr. Mom’s Kitchen and I have come up short.  So instead, I’ve been retreating to the kitchen, pondering the most essential of so many life skills:  cooking. There is so much more I want to pass on before she heads clear across the country for college.

Sniff.  Does anyone have a hanky?

So I’m putting angst into action and have developed a list of skills that I want my kids to know before they walk out the door. Perhaps your children are approaching this turning point too, or perhaps they are far off. Either way, it’s never too early to start.

10 Cooking Skills Every Kid Show Know Before They Leave the Nest

  1. How to use a knife — I can’t understate the importance of teaching kids to use a chef’s knife or paring knife, both for safety and ease. Have a few good knives, make sure they’re sharp, and take baby steps in teaching your children to use them.  If you aren’t confident in your own knife skills, this tutorial from The Kitchn may help. 
  2. How to wash and cut vegetables and fruit — Sounds so basic, but if you’ve never split open a red pepper or seeded a cucumber, you’d never know where to begin. If we want our kids to eat vegetables and fruits, we need to show them how.
  3. How to make a salad — Lettuce doesn’t come with operating instructions. We must teach kids to dismember, wash, and dry a head of leafy greens. Better yet, show them to make a simple dressing that will be miles better than store bought. This basic vinaigrette is a good starting point. 
  4. How to cook grains — Teaching children the essentials of cooking grains (grain + water + cooking time) arms them with the know how to make one of nature’s most affordable and fundamental foods.  Start with rice or oatmeal and they can build from there.
  5. How to roast vegetables –Show kids how to roast a pan of potatoes and they can parlay that knowledge into cooking almost any vegetable at the produce stand. These Thick Cut Roasted Sweet Potatoes are a winning first step 
  6. How to cook a piece of chicken, fish, or meat in a pan — A cast iron skillet, a swirl of olive oil, and a little salt is really all that’s required to quickly cook a chicken breast or pork chop. Teach kids how to make one variety, and they’ll get the others in time. Here you’ll find a “how to” on cooking chicken breast in a pan. 
  7. How to make one simple pasta  — Pasta is cheap, hard to screw up, and universally appealing. Teach your child one good dish as a foundation from which they can grow. This Spaghetti with Butter, Egg, and Cheese is one my Italian aunt learned from her mother, taught to her children, who taught it to me, and now I’ve passed it onto to to my own kids, who say it’s an all-time favorite.
  8. How to cook eggs — Whether scrambled, fried, or soft boiled, eggs are the foundation for terrific, affordable, healthful meals. Consider, for example, that scrambled eggs embellished with greens and cheese (and perhaps leftover grains) makes for an excellent meal. This fried egg with beans on a tortilla will set you back less than a dollar, is good basic nourishment, and super tasty.
  9. How to bake something sweet — Knowing how to bake a batch of cupcakes or a sheet pan of cookies isn’t essential for nourishment, but it is awfully handy when it comes to celebrating a friend’s birthday or commiserating over a first heartbreak.  Baking is also an excellent place for kids to learn the basics of how to properly measure and follow a recipe.
  10. How to clean the kitchen —  Falling squarely in the category of “boring but important”, getting kids to clean up after themselves will endear them to roommates and romantic interests over the long haul.

What cooking skills you consider essential for your kids?

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