I love to cook. Always have. I love sifting through magazines for new and interesting recipes, trying new flavor combinations, searching markets for new products, and most of all basking in the satisfaction of having made food I love to eat.
My Love of Cooking
My love of cooking comes from my Mom, who learned from her Mom who grew up with parents that owned a successful restaurant just outside of Chicago. During my childhood, my Mom would shop at co-ops for high-quality but inexpensive ingredients and provide us with delicious gourmet meals at dinner time. Of course, as a child I was oblivious to how much effort and dedication this took, but there is no doubt eating good food in my youth forever spoiled me.
I have fond memories of cooking with my Mom and later as a teenager as I attempted to cook dinner for our family. Some of the meals I made by myself were more successful than others. I’ll never forget when I attempted to make a very complicated soup from the well-known Greens cookbook only to spoil it at the end by adding too much lemon juice at the end.
Over the years I’ve been grateful to have cooking as a creative outlet and also have the skills to make fresh meals on my own. During those first few years out of college and later as my own family grew, cooking at home meant eating well while also spending less.
What Does Cooking Have to do with Money?
According to the Consumer Expenditures Survey, Americans spend approximately 13% of their income on food each year. And as we all know, foods prepared at home can cost less than prepared foods or meals purchased in a restaurant. (Check out the analysis done by Flannel Guy ROI in Cooking at Home vs. Eating Out). So teaching kids to cook not only sets them up for healthier eating, but also gives them the means to keep spending low.
Learning by Doing
For a long time I’ve been eager to teach my girls not only how to cook, but how to shop for ingredients and follow a recipe on their own. They’re now 6 and 8 – perfect ages to begin this education.
Last Veteran’s Day, a day off of school, I proposed to my girls that they plan and cook a meal on their own. They were so excited they set off to create a make-believe restaurant out of our kitchen and dining room complete with reception desk, menu, and a set table. I was asked to “call” and make a reservation and when it was time to eat, I had a “waiter” come serve me.
But before the actual meal began, the girls chose what they would make – spaghetti and meatballs with salad. We already had many of the necessary ingredients at home, but a trip to the grocery store was necessary for a few items.
Letting Kids Run the Show
At the store, I let them take over. I figured it would provide them with a good opportunity to learn how to shop on their own. I also had my oldest write down the items we were buying along with the price to help her better understand the cost of each purchase. We also compared prices – especially between organic and non-organic foods – and I tried to explain the reasons why some vegetables cost more than others.
Next came the preparation of the meal. Again, I let them take over – My 8-year-old read and followed the recipe, directed her little sister, and they both asked me for advice along the way. The only thing they didn’t make was the pasta which was too heavy for them to drain once cooked.
Finally, it was time to eat – and everything was delicious! The girls already like spaghetti & meatballs and salad, but delighted in the fact they had made everything on their own. And fortunately, no one added too much lemon juice to the salad dressing.
Even after all the fun of shopping, preparing, and cooking, I hope my girls walked away from this experience with some sense of what it takes to cook meals at home. I’ve always felt that doing, rather than being told, is the best way for both kids and adults to learn. Hopefully, this will become a regular activity in our house. Besides, it would be nice to have a few sous chefs in the kitchen.
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