In the modern world, it seems that children don’t know how to do anything except play games on the computer. Classics like baseballs, and footballs have been replaced by X-Boxes and Nintendos as the #1 selling toys. Children seldom play outside anymore, It seems like it is a chore, in and of itself, to get children to do their chores. In my opinion, this is a contributory factor to disciplinary problems, and apathy in school, obesity, and most other pre-adolescent ills. Children need order, responsibility, and discipline. They also need to learn how to take care of themselves, by learning how to swim, sew, and most of all, how to do basic cooking. Add to this, the importance of teaching children how to cook.
In my day, free-time was at a premium, and was cherished. Most of our time was spent doing chores, or learning. As soon as we could stand up to the table, we would be introduced to the joys of shelling peas and shucking corn. When we got old enough to understand safety rules, we got promoted to peeling potatoes, and slicing onions, tomatoes and making salads. When we could reach the stove, we learned how to make biscuits, fry chicken, cook hamburgers, prepare rice, etc…And this was not gender-biased. When I was young, everybody knew how to cook. Some were better than others, but everyone knew the basics. And no one had time to go out and get into any real trouble.
I believe that children want to know how to cook. Many’s the time a well-meaning youngster has wanted to surprise the family with a home-cooked bean supper, only to have the house later sound like the mating-season for whoopie cushions. This situation can easily be avoided by showing your children the correct way to prepare beans, so that they are delicious, and relatively silent. You can explain to them that, from a cooking standpoint, ‘cutting the cheese’ has a completely different meaning, and seldom involves pulling anyone’s finger. I taught my grandchildren that ‘air-biscuits’ seldom compliment any meal. When children learn to correctly prepare a meal, it instills a sense of pride and accomplishment in them, that will carry over into other areas. It also helps boost their self-esteem; very important for developing personalities.
One problem children have with learning academic subjects in school is that they often cannot see the practical side of what they are learning. They often think, “I’m never going to need to use this…”. Cooking involves more than just a life-skill. It requires a knowledge of basic math, safety, chemistry, physics and biology, reading, and decision-making, especially when shopping. They get a chance to see why they have to learn these subjects in school. And, as a side benefit, they even need to learn a little about nutrition, which can help them make better food choices. Of course, it will also involve spending time together, but that is also a good thing. Families (in general) don’t spend near enough time with each other, anymore.
I wish I could tell you that children who learn to cook do better in school, and are more well-adjusted, but I have been unable to find any studies on this. I’d love to see a few done. All I can tell you what I have personally observed, and that is that children who learn to cook seem to do better in school, present less disciplinary problems, and seem to have better attitudes. Being able to cook for yourself creates an incredible sense of empowerment and independence. And one benefit that tops them all, especially in these economic times, is that a person who knows how to cook will never have trouble finding a job. No matter what the economy does, restaurants, diners, hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions need cooks….always. You may never realize earnings in the top 30% of everyone in America, but if you have a job paying $7.00-$10.00 per hour, while everyone around you is losing their home, you’re doing alright. In my 40+ years experience in restaurants, I cannot remember a single time when kitchen staff was ever layed-off. Sure, restaurants close, and go out of business regularly, but the next cooking job is usually right around the corner. As fast as one shuts down, another opens up.
My suggestion is to start children out early, as young as 3 or 4 years old, and let them help wash vegetables, watch, and learn what you are doing. When they get around 10 years old, then they can help by snapping beans, soaking beans, shucking corn, cracking nuts, separating and beating eggs, beating whipping cream, making mayonnaise and salad dressings, reading recipes, and measuring out liquid and dry ingredients. When they get to their teens, they can start learning how to slice, use appliances, create shopping lists from recipes, and plan meals (all under adult supervision, of course…). By the time they are 14, or 15, they should be able to plan menus, keep the kitchen stocked, and create their own recipes, all without supervision.
If you don’t know how to cook, consider taking some cooking classes with your children. It can make for some fun family outings. In this day of failing economies, modified families, pre-packaged life-styles, and a general decline in just about everything that made this country great, I cannot over-stress the importance of teaching children how to cook. It’ll be a favor to all of you.