Teaching your kids to cook is like teaching them to drive, only harder. There's no imaginary brake, for one thing, and you'll go through more eggs.
As parents, many of us take great pleasure in feeding our children -- in watching them enjoy the fruits of our labor and nourishing their bodies with rib-sticking fare. But at some point, as our kids get older and more responsible, we need to provide them with the knowledge and tools to begin feeding themselves.
Here are five simple tips to get you started.
1. Keep the mood light.
Kitchens brim with potentially dangerous equipment. From hot stoves to sharp knives, there's plenty around to make you nervous -- but steel yourself. Kids can read anxiety, and if you're not relaxed, they won't be either. Supervise them closely and be aware of hazards, but proceed anyway, with an upbeat voice and smiling eyes.
2. Strike a deal.
Kids take to new learning opportunities best when they have a stake in the outcome, so make them part of the process. If they want to make cookies, let them. But the next lesson is yours to choose. Alternate between treats and more healthful, everyday fare, from cookies and pies to salads and smoothies.
3. Don't neglect terminology.
Kids are blank slates, and words like fold, sear, and sauté are meaningless until properly defined. You can use easier words if you like, but why bother? Mastering a new lexicon is part of skill-building; plus, kids are sponges when it comes to language acquisition. Soon they'll be bandying about new words like natives. ("Mom, can I go sauté up and down on your bed?")
4. Dig deeper.
Teaching kids to cook also presents opportunities to talk about culture, family history, nutrition, food politics, and hunger. Depending on your child's age, consider sprinkling your lessons with gentle forays into these deeper waters, avoiding heavy-handed moralizing but introducing your kids to some of the broader issues surrounding food. You're not just educating a future cook; you're influencing a lifelong eater.
5. Keep your eye on the prize.
Your ultimate goal is not the creation of restaurant-quality dishes, but boosting your child's self-esteem and encouraging their burgeoning independence. If, at the end of your lessons, you've got a happy kid who's excited to spend time in the kitchen, you've done your job, and done it well.
Cheryl Sternman Rule is a food writer in San Jose, California. Her first cookbook, Ripe, will be published by Running Press is 2012. She is currently teaching her sons to cook.