Nov 10, 2010

Cooking With Preteens

Getting your preteen acquainted with the kitchen can be beneficial in so many ways. Aside from giving you a break from being responsible for every meal, learning to cook builds confidence, vocabulary, and tastes, as well as reinforcing basic math skills. You may have already been baking and cooking together since your preteen was small, but even if you haven’t, it’s never too late to start. So often we let our busy lives interfere with our willingness to prepare a meal. By encouraging your child’s interest in cooking, you are empowering them with important life skills.

Browse through some cookbooks together

Giving your preteen the freedom to pick out a recipe builds their excitement. Plus, it gives them ownership throughout the process. Finding a kid-friendly cookbook is easy, the question is, which one? The recipes should be simple and straightforward, and should use uncomplicated ingredients. There should be pictures, lots of pictures, and vivid descriptions illustrating how to do certain tasks. Emeril, Rachel Ray, Williams-Sonoma, and Better Homes and Gardens have all released great cookbooks for kids. My favorite children’s cookbooks are fromMollie Katzen. She makes cooking fun, delicious, and healthy for both kids and adults.

Prep work

It’s important to know what you and your tween are getting yourselves into. Explain to them the importance of reading an entire recipe before beginning the process. Make sure you have enough time, the proper equipment and ingredients. Show your tween how to decipher the recipes. Words like “simmer,” “broil,” and “dice” might be foreign to your child. If you come across terminology that you do not recognize, you can look it up in the food dictionary at When doubling recipes, ask your tween to show off their math skills by telling you the new amounts of ingredients needed. This will help boost their culinary confidence.

Going grocery shopping as a team

Once you know what you’re going to be making, pick up the ingredients you need at the grocery store. Study food prices, labels, and quantities with them. Have them practice shopping on a budget by using a calculator to add up the food prices as you go. Let them pick out a few things, outside of the recipe, that they might be interested in trying.

Utensils 101

A kitchen Q & A session is important so that your preteen knows where things are, what to use, and how to use them. Turn it into a fun family trivia game, if you’d like. This is a good opportunity to find out what your child already does and does not know about the kitchen utensils, tools, and appliances. Don’t underestimate them – they probably know more than you might expect. Don’t overestimate them, either – they might know what something is, but have no idea what it’s for or how it’s used. Maybe you have something hiding in your utensil drawer that they’ve never seen before. Have you ever actually used your lemon reamer?

Safety in the kitchen

A talk about safety is mandatory. Try to keep at least one eye on your preteen, at least until they are comfortable around the knives and heat. You don’t want to scare them, but rather guide them about the proper way to hold and use a knife for chopping. Use your judgment about whether you think your child is mature enough to handle a sharp knife, otherwise stick with safer tasks such as measuring, stirring, and cracking eggs. Give your novice chopper something easy to practice with, such as a stalk of celery. Celery is a great practice food because it can lay flat on the cutting board and is easy to grip. Don’t worry about your preteen having perfect Food Network-esque knife skills, as long as they are comfortable. Some important safety tips to communicate to your child are:

  • Long hair should be tied back.
  • Sleeves should be rolled up past the wrists.
  • Potholders should be clean and dry, and always easily accessible. (Wet potholders conduct heat.)
  • Pot handles on the stove should be turned inward, to avoid being accidentally bumped.
  • Hot pots or pans should stay on the stovetop to cool, before being transferred to a countertop or the sink.
  • Kids should be tall enough to see inside the pot before attempting stovetop recipes. Never leave the stirring utensil in the pot. That’s what those adorable little spoon rests are for.
  • Kitchen = electricity and water in the same general area. Proceed with caution, and be sure the two never mix.
  • No metal in the microwave. That means no aluminum foil, forks, etc.
  • If raw meat, fish, poultry or eggs have touched a cutting board or utensil, explain why you should not use it again to touch raw foods without washing it thoroughly with warm soapy water. Same goes for your hands.
  • Above all, encourage a lot of communication in the kitchen. If a sharp knife, or a hot pan, is being moved from one location to another, speak up!

Getting Messy

Let your preteen take charge. Having your preteen act as head chef allows them to take ownership over the process and eventually become independent enough to do it themselves. You can participate as sous chef and offer advice when necessary. Follow are some tips you can share with your preteen to get them started.

  • Create a clean working space.
  • Review your recipe.
  • Preheat oven if necessary.
  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water.
  • Get all the utensils and ingredients set up on the counter.
  • Rinse and dry all fruit and vegetables before you use them.
  • Measure and chop ingredients so they are ready to cook.
  • Clean up spills, load the dishwasher and soak pots as you go along.
  • Have fun!

Enjoy your meal

After bonding with your preteen in the kitchen, enjoy the fruits of your labor together! Regardless of how the dish turned out, be sure to give your child lots of praise and positive reinforcement so they are confident about trying new things in the kitchen and new foods on their plates.

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