Tag Archives: cooking

Kids in The Kitchen: 10 Tips for Teaching Kids to Cook

My mother never shooed us out of the kitchen. Instead she put us to work! Since I am from a very big family (12 children), in a word, it was chaos, but it was beautiful chaos. I prepared my first full meal when I was only 8 years old. My mother grew up in a family where everything was cooked from cans, so it was very important to her that we know how to cook from scratch. As a teenager she taught herself to cook real food and then took over the family meals. One of the first things that I ever learned how to make was bread, and the first job we had as kids was to knead the dough. I can imagine now that my mother may not have wanted to do all of the kneading herself – she baked bread every Saturday – but at the time it was great fun!

When I was in college, I found out that not everyone’s mothers thought that learning to cook was important – I taught a few roommates how to do some simple things – like read recipes, boil water to make pasta, make dinner rolls, and to bake cookies (a skill that no enterprising – and starving – college girl should be without!) But I appreciate the skills I learned as a child even more as a mom. After meeting people who didn’t even know how to boil water or follow simple instructions on a box of rice-a-roni (which I honestly had never even HEARD of until I was in college), I decided that ALL of my kids would learn to cook because there is nothing sadder than an adult college student struggling on a small budget, who can’t even take care of themselves in this most basic way.

So here it is! My list of ten tips to help you teach your kids how to cook:

  1. Never shoo your children out of the kitchen. Instead, put them to work! Even small children can do something, even if you just give them a small piece of dough to play with. At 3, measure ingredients and let them put the measured ingredients into the mixing bowl. At 4 and 5, you can hand them a vegetable peeler. At 6, let them read the ingredients out of the recipe book and show them how to measure. You can set them up with a knife to chop vegetables (supervised of course) and at 7, let them measure out ingredients for you, or even try a simple recipe all by themselves. At 8, let them prepare a simple meal for the whole family without any help.  Not only have they learned an important skill, but they have realized that they can be an important member of the family, and they have earned confidence!
  2. Provide your children with easy access to healthy recipes that are easy to follow, and that are in a format that is easy to use and can take a beating. You may be interested in my Healthy Kid’s Recipe Cards, which you can find online here
  3. Hold a weekly family night or regular family activities so that you can provide additional opportunities for your children to make snacks or treats to showcase their newly learned skills.
  4. Praise them when it is warranted. Do not overdo it by ignoring faults and flops though – good food is expensive and good instruction that includes correction when needed helps avoid unnecessary waste. I recommend a sandwich style praise and correction model. If the recipe turned out badly, praise them for what they did right (wow, you did this all by yourself?) and then provide gentle instructions (next time, call me in if you need help with measuring the salt.) Then another good thing (It looks like you baked these for just the right amount of time!)Your child will want to know what went wrong so that they can make it better the next time around.
  5. Expect your boys to learn as well as your girls! Boys need these skills just as much as anyone now! You can’t make the mistake of assuming that your son’s wife will know how to cook or you may end up with grand kids who are part of the McD’s generation. Besides, it might be just the thing that will help him catch the girl of his dreams! My husband cooked for me on our first date. Children who learn to cook are less expensive to support through college, and will be healthier as well.
  6. As your children get older, do not hesitate to give them more responsibilities. Alternate the responsibilities for making breakfasts, allow them to pack their own lunches for school, and assign them one night a week to make dinner for the family.
  7. Always verbally thank the one responsible for the meal publicly around the dinner table. Point out the best parts of the meal and say exactly what you like about it. This is not the forum for corrections unless the child acknowledges something himself – like if a cake fell or if there was too much pepper in the gravy.  If they point it out themselves  in this setting, you can down play it for the moment (“yes, but the potatoes are perfect!”) and help them fix it later.
  8. When your child is old enough, help them plan a month of menus and execute a shopping trip. This lets your child learn the logistics of planning a meal from start to finish, including what constitutes a balanced meal, what you have already on hand and which items they will need to buy, and how much those things actually cost.  A child should be able to plan one day’s meals at the age of 7 or 8, a week’s worth of menus at 9 or 10, and a month of menus at 11 or 12.
  9. Don’t hold back on letting your child make a complicated recipe. I made bread on my own for the first time when I was not even 8 years old. You as the parent can trust your instincts about what your child is capable of at what age. Allow your child to challenge herself even if you are not sure if she can do it on her own. I was pleasantly surprised the first time my daughter made apple pie.
  10. Avoid relying on boxed items or pre-made foods for teaching kids how to cook. Children can read and understand recipes and it is a good opportunity for kids to learn about measurements, how ingredients work in a recipe, and many other things that kids can’t learn by making ramen noodles or microwavable boxed macaroni and cheese. Children are capable of much more than we give them credit for, and besides, teaching from scratch allows your child to form good nutritional habits early on, which will allow them to have a healthier lifestyle and a better quality of life.

Making Yogurt with Villi and Greek Cultures

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Making Villi and Greek Yogurt

When I got my yogurt cultures in the mail from Cultures for Health, I was really excited, but had to put the project on hold due to my trip to the Raw Milk Symposium that weekend. I wanted to have plenty of time to do it right. So when I got back from Wisconsin, I pulled out the packets and with some very enthusiastic help from 7-year-old Zee, I went to work. We started with the Villi culture. Zee opened the packet for me and measured out the recommended 1/2 tsp of culture, which I mixed into 1/2 cup of raw milk. I left this in a canning jar on my stove top for 24 hours checking it occasionally – OK, so I hovered a little, I’m a little controlling – sorry! – after 24 hours, it was still not setting up, so I checked the instructions and saw that on the back of the page of instructions there was a special section for raw milk! So, I set the first try aside and started over, this time I slowly heated the milk to 160° and then cooling the milk to room temperature before adding the culture, and then began the waiting process all over again. Being a somewhat scientifically minded person, I left the first batch on the stove top along with the second one, and waited (alright – I already said I am not much good at waiting, but I really don’t think I hurt it any.) The next morning, the first batch had gelled up to a kind of slimy runny consistency, while the second batch was still not set up. I left it there and decided I would check it again when I got home from work.

When I got home, the first batch had gelled into a very soft yogurt that held form when first scooped up, but then collapsed into a really runny yogurt, more like kefir. The second one was much more firm and was beginning to separate from the whey. Glad that there was an extra half teaspoon, I used the pure starter and mixed it in to a quart of raw milk that I had mixed in about 1 cup of cream, and set it on the counter again. This batch set up very nicely after 24 hours and had a really nice thick mild flavored yogurt. Yum! I used the 3rd 1/2 tsp to make another pure starter (done right by heating the milk first) and put it in the refrigerator to be used in the next batch – I will make another pint of yogurt by heating the milk and then I can use 2 Tbsp in each quart of raw milk without having to heat it again until I want to make another batch of pure starter. This is done to preserve the integrity of the villi culture, because bacteria from the raw milk can change the culture and yield unpredictable results.

The Greek yogurt was a bit different – it requires very low heat. I started out right this time, warming the milk to 180° this time (as per instructions) and then cooled it to 110° before adding the culture.  With only 1/2 cup of milk, much of the liquid evaporated out. I used my food dehydrator and I am wondering if it may have been a little to warm. I put the starter into a Ziploc baggie and put it in the refrigerator. I think I will bring in the cooler and use the hot water method instead.

To be continued! . . .