I’d love to get my daughter interested in cooking. Can you suggest some recipes that a young teen or tween might enjoy and enjoy cooking together with an adult?
Teaching kids to cook—and to enjoy cooking—gives them a gift that keeps on giving. Since so much of our health and our joy can spring from the food we eat, sending a child into the world with a sense of confidence about preparing meals can give them a powerful tool for living well.
I have to admit, I am not nearly as good about helping my own pre-teen daughter learn to cook as I’d like to be. You’d think that a person who loves to cook (me) and who writes a website devoted to helping people learn to develop new behaviors and try new recipes (me) would be a great mentor for a kid learning to cook. NOPE!
Because I love to cook, and because I think of the kitchen as my space while I’m cooking, it is challenging for me to be patient with someone just learning in my environment. In my own kitchen, giving up control, sharing tools, and letting go of expectations is hard.
Of course, my kitchen is my kid’s kitchen and my spouse’s kitchen, too. My fantasy that our home kitchen is my personal workshop doesn’t serve me or my family if it doesn’t give anyone else license to have fun cooking.
So, if you are an avid home cook, let me give you this warning, based on my own experience: you may feel really uncomfortable while you are helping your kid to learn. I always try to remind myself that if I can model how much fun creating meals can be, I can keep my kid interested (even when I’m a crummy teacher.) When we are working together, I remind myself to find everything she is doing well and mention it to her, and when I lose my cool, I ask for forgiveness. Laughter never hurts, either, especially when there are big spills or ruined food.
My mom, who loves to bake but never really cared much for cooking, was far more patient with me when it came to learning to cook. I’m going to take a page out of her book, and suggest one of her favorite meals—breakfast for dinner—as a great first meal to make with your daughter, and eventually to pass off to her as her own responsibility.
It can be difficult to get eggs cooked correctly, but since they are inexpensive and packed full of nutrients, they are worth the practice.
Scrambled eggs—butter in a hot pan, eggs with some milk, cooked quickly, moved around in the pan just enough to make sure they don’t burn, but stay fluffy—can make the protein foundation for breakfast for dinner. Throwing leftover vegetables into eggs, along with the cheese of the child’s choice, can boost the nutritional bang for your buck.
French toast or pancakes are kid favorites, and they will help teach a new cook how to be patient, how to control the heat on the stove, and how to successfully flip items in a pan.
As for bacon or sausage, I recommend an oven method, both so that scalding with hot grease is not an issue, and because (I believe) the oven yields a superior result. An added bonus: using the oven for the meat while using the stove for eggs and pancakes or French toast makes it easier for the cook to get everything prepared to be served at the same time.
For my favorite oven-cooked bacon, line a large jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with shallow sides) with foil, then a sheet of parchment paper. Place bacon in a single layer on the parchment, place in a cold oven, then turn on the oven to 350 degrees. Check after fifteen minutes; cook to desired crispness. Remove from the oven and place on paper towels to absorb grease.
I don’t think there is much a teenager likes more than feeling like they can do something without any help, especially from their parents. Breakfast for dinner can lead to pasta, which can progress to tacos and chili, which can result in simply cooked meats and oven-roasted veggies. Stay around enough to ensure safe knife skills are being developed, and chances for burns are minimized, but wherever possible, give your kid space to make mistakes and develop independence. Even if they struggle now, they’ll thank you for it!
I hope this is a help to you, and thank you for your question.