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advice on teaching a kid to cook

the short version, what exercises/items would you use for teaching techniques?

a little background. my cousin is 16 and has never cooked before and i want to teach her. i have what i would describe as advanced home cook skills. i'm by no means a professional but i can handle myself in the kitchen.

i was thinking a lesson plan like this:

lesson 1)
knife skills. use carrots, bell peppers and onions to show the different way to slice/mince/dice. time permitting showing how its the trinity and is the base of many dishes

lesson 2)
baking basics either pancakes or cookies. show her measuring, following a recipe and how to combine doughs.

lesson 3)
start cooking with help only of techniques she doesn't know yet and minor supervision. i'll have her pick a menu she wants to have for dinner and find an easy to follow recipe and have her her follow it. repeated as many times until she feels comfortable doing it by herself.

lesson 4)
medium baking skills bake and ice a cake

suggestions? additions? comments? thanks in advance

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  1. I had my neice in the kitchen starting at about 11, she always enjoyed my food because, "it was sooooooo much better than mommies." and, she wanted to know why.

    So one day I asked her to help me make a super veggie pasta salad (by super veggie, I mean a lot of choping.) So I first showed her basic knife skills, she started with the smaller 6" sharp chef's knife. I taught her the basics: knuckles out, proper grip, etc. and she chopped that day. I taught her why fresh in season veggies are better and why were we chopping raw food vs. dumping a bag of frozen veggies in the pot in the summer.

    From there, I just followed her lead, answered questions, let her watch me and let her take over whenever she felt comfortable. She made some mishaps; I tried to correct her at times and at times she didn't want to be corrected, so I let her make mistakes. The only time I REALLY would correct her LOUDLY was if there was a cross contamination

    We've had so much fun in the kitchen over the years, she's turning 17 next month and has become a pretty accomplished cook. Now she's better than her mom too...has been for years! LoL

    So, I'd say knife skills, kitchen safety and proper food handling should be the disciplined ''instructional" piece but from there, let it be student led. I think too structured might feel like "work" - if you have the time, maybe just spend a few weekends in the kitchen together making food, telling stories and having a few mishaps together might be more fun than a lesson plan (unless that's what you both want?)

    And, if she's anything like my girl, you'll walk away shocked with what she just "picked up" from you.

    Gosh! I just realized these are some of my faborite memories!

    1. Can you get the old Sara Moulton "Cooking Live" epidsodes on DVD? Or the (very) old Graham Kerr shows? I also like the old Jaques Pepin. Or the even older "The French Chef" DVDs? I absolutely adore those old Julia's for their entertainment value, but I do think they'd be useful as cooking lessons, too.

      I think you've laid out a good plan. repeat, repeat, repeat. I think I would start with baking because that probably has a bigger payoff to a kid than vegetables and cutting/chopping which can be tedious and frustrating for someone new to knives, at least based on what I've seen with friends kids. Or ask her what interests her most--maybe she's always wanted to make a certain iconic dish or has a favorite she'd like to attempt. This is how I got my guy a little interested in cooking. He was constantly, jokingly asking for stuff like beef wellington, duck a l'orange, borcht, etc. and I would call his bluff and cook that stuff which led to him doing the same. Now he's a pro at chicken parm AND pancakes and real popcorn.

      How about a trip to the grocery store or someplace where she could be introduced to that whole end of the process? A friend's 10 y.o. shocked me the other day by asking "WHAT are you DOING?" when she saw me peeling a carrot. She has only ever had/seen baby or shredded carrots from a plastic bag. Yikes.

      1. I had to laugh when I read "i'll have her pick a menu she wants to have for dinner". Not that it's a bad idea, but I did that with a youngster in our family who wanted to learn to cook and she selected Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska. I learned from that experience that making suggestions and letting her select from a list of possibilities was a much better approach. Today she's an excellent and now she can handle those dishes quite nicely.
        I like your plan and would only add that before you begin it would be helpful to assess her math skills and start with things that she can handle as she advances in that area. She'll need to know, for example, that a tablespoon is the product of three teaspoons, a cup of milk = 8 ounces, etc.
        Good luck...................

        1. A couple of other ideas:

          1. Pounding out a piece of meat, searing it, and making a pan sauce. Super easy with AWESOME results.

          2. Spaghetti and meatballs. It's a lot of steps and none of them are complicated.

          3. Making a stew with biscuits. Searing the meat, sauteeing the vegetables, making a roux, and adding stock. They can apply lesson 1 for that. And then apply lesson 2.

          4. Somewhat advanced but if you have a food processor, great to make a pie. Piecrust is finicking but a great way to teach how to feel out if something is the right consistency.

          1. I would start even easier than that...

            Eggs...easy, cheap, and doesn't require any kind of manual dexterity (if you can cook an egg, you will never go hungry -- important for a soon-to-be college student) Fried, scrambled, boiled, poached...the basics.

            Pasta -- start with basic pasta -- start with packaged sauces (we all have to crawl before we can run).

            Now introduce a knife...

            Potatoes -- boiled, mashed, baked'

            Rice

            Now add carrots and roast those veggies (steam the carrots, too)

            Add to the veggie repertoire, and show her how to make fried rice (rice...scrambled eggs...vegetables) and a veggie stir fry.

            now meat...food safety, and more knife skills.

            now a chicken-and-pasta or chicken-and-rice.

            chop and fry bacon and make a carbonara

            When she's got the basics of Feeding Oneself 101 down...then stretch into pancakes and simple baked goods (try a French yogurt cake - no measuring cups!)

            and then expand from there -- remember that she may have no interest in cooking, or she make take to it like a duck to water...your lessons after F.O. 101 will depend on her interest and ability.

            3 Replies
            1. re: sunshine842

              Yes, I agree with sunshine. Also, anything that requires stirring/mixing. My mother gave me the task of stirring the pudding on the stovetop, making sure it didn't stick/burn (in the days before instant pudding). A tedious task, maybe, but I knew the result would be delicious, and it teaches patience, a good asset to any cook.

              1. re: sunshine842

                I respectfully have to disagree...I grew up age 5-10 learning how to put basic food together to feed myself, and age 10-23 making only those 5 simple things...pasta, grilled cheese, heating canned soup, bisquick biscuits for "special occasions" -- I think it is kind of a shame. I didn't learn how complicated our processed foods (like jarred red sauce) are until last year. I wish I had had a more foundation-based learning in this case...love DCfoodblog's suggestions above. simple foods, recipes with several steps, that are not difficult to mess up...and taste delicious. and the grocery shopping (avoid those inside aisles!) is a great idea as well.

                1. re: hjordan

                  Nobody said that those things should be the end of the lessons -- but at 16, she's likely to need to feed herself at home from time to time, and college isn't far off...so getting her to Feeding Oneself would be a useful first step.

                  At the bottom, I said that then -- if she enjoys cooking -- the lessons can progress to more involved and detailed recipes.

                  It also depends on whether she's a fledgling foodie, or if she's one of those "food is just fuel" folks.

                  (I'm a foodie, my mom is a "just fuel", and my sister is somewhere in between...so there's no rhyme or reason as to how someone will turn out)