What’s the point of having kids if you can’t send them to the kitchen to make you a roast beef sandwich? With a little instruction, kids – even young ones – can make simple meals. “I love getting them in the kitchen as soon as possible,” says Holly Pierce, a private chef and cooking instructor on Thumbtack. But it’s not just about food. Even your five-year-old can begin learning key life lessons with the help of some mixing bowls.
Kids Just Want to Make Stuff
Children are tactile. “If I give them a piece of dough to play with, they love to get their hands in there,” says Pierce. Pierce will pre-slice apples for the younger kids so they can pile them into a pie. Deeply intrigued by cinnamon-shaking and sugar-pouring, kids quickly learn how to measure and assemble ingredients. “Holding their attention is really key. I have to keep moving from step to step to keep them interested – which is great for me, because I have a really short attention span too,” she laughs. Pierce teaches proper technique, but when they’re younger, it’s mostly about teaching them that cooking is fun.
Put ‘Em On Dinner Duty
Kids as young as six can make basic meals at home – scrambled eggs, pizza, pasta. “I’ll let them start doing more for themselves,” says Pierce. “Just real easy things.” She’ll read the recipe with them so they understand the steps and what the finished product will be. She introduces them to smaller knives and safety procedures. “It really sets the stage for how they behave in the kitchen,” she says. “Let’s face it, when you get a bunch of six and seven year olds together, they’re going to be wild at times. That’s part of the fun. But there’s also a level of safety they need to understand.”
Sometimes she’ll get kids whose parents who have warned their diminutive offspring away from the stove, understandably hoping to keep them from getting burned. So kids may have developed a fear of the stove and don’t want to get near it. “You have to try to undo whatever has been done, teach respect and how to maneuver around the stove,” she explains.
About how much cooking responsibility parents can give their children, Pierce says, “As much as your child is eager to take.” Everyone has different aptitude and comfort levels. “I have had children who, whatever the age, are eager to take on responsibility,” she explains. “And I have adults who should not handle knives.” She wouldn’t give a kid the run of the pantry, but many of the children she teaches are very responsible and might be able to take over the occasional easy meal. “There are all kinds of solutions for parents with kids who love to cook and the parents don’t have the time or inclination,” she says. “I’ve had kids come up to me and say, ‘Yes, I do the cooking my house,’ and they’re just eleven years old. It’s great.”
What a Giant Meatball Can Teach Kids About Life
Kids approach cooking with the same enthusiasm they approach everything else. Because why make a normal meatball when you can make a monster? “I take a hands-off approach to the learning curve,” Pierce explains. “I’d much rather let them explore their creativity.”
When teaching a group of seven-year-olds how to roll out meatballs, one of her students looked up at her and says, “I just want to make the most giant meatball. Just one giant meatball.” She gave him the go-ahead to conjure up a meatball the size of a softball. “He was just so happy with himself,” she laughs. “His eyes were big and shining.” When one of her colleagues pointed out that they wouldn’t cook at the same rate, she refused to kill his plan. Instead she broached the problem with the kids and asked for help solving it, asking them what would happen when they put a mega meatball in the oven next to the less ambitious ones. “They really start thinking and they love to answer,” she says. “I find that a lot of the skills I teach in cooking classes apply to their lives in a bigger way.”
Benefits of Teaching Kids To Cook
When you’re young, your resume is fairly short. “When they start experimenting with things and show mom and dad what they made, it’s a big accomplishment for them,” says Pierce. Confidence is boosted because they suddenly have a rather profound life skill: the ability to feed themselves and others.
Cooking challenges their cognitive skills and helps them apply their understanding of math in a practical way. Pierce will ask her students how to double a recipe. She’ll challenge them to explore new food. She’ll even let them spit it out in her hand if they don’t like it.
When something doesn’t work out, Pierce asks them how they might fix it. If they can’t fix it, she asks what they’ll do differently the next time. They learn how empowering it can feel to make a mistake and figure out how to correct it. “I try to help them see that it’s not a disaster. They’re not a failure,” she says. It teaches them a valuable lesson in perception – life isn’t always going to work out perfectly, but there are always things you can do to help the situation or change it for next time. “We’re talking about a failed cake but it plants those seeds so they can take that into other areas of their life,” she says.