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Generation (Y) needs some cooking lessons

As a Father of four (gen y) kids ranging in age from 18-26, I have noticed the extreme lack of cooking skills. The most embarrassing part is, I'm a chef. I must say, they are better than some of their friends, but it still saddens me that most of this generation could not correctly tell you the difference between a cucumber and a zucchini. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. Well, it's kinda the parent's job right there... my 5 year old knows how to make pancakes from scratch, I wouldn't expect school to teach such things beyond the very basic nutrition skills...

    Some families go out/get takeout/eat in the car way more often than cook at home, that's example setting as well

    1. I can assure you that my GenY knows how to cook, and does. What other skills can we give our kids that saves them so much money and gives so much pleasure?

      But you can't start these lessons at age 18. Instead, the lessons began in the high chair. Even a 3-year old can pluck the grapes off the vine, or hand the next mise en place bowl to the cook.

      I think anytime you use a stereotype for an entire generation you run the risk of being wrong as often as you are correct.

      2 Replies
      1. re: smtucker

        Absolutely you / they can start these lessons at age 18! Never to late to learn, and it's much easier / faster when they can read and are motivated.

        1. re: smtucker

          Yes! Thank you. I'm around the age of OP's eldest, and I cook quite well, as do most of my friends. If anything, I think it's the opposite of what you say.

        2. Because many parents of gen Y kids also don't cook. Parents who cook can pass it on. Parents who don't, can't.

          9 Replies
            1. re: foodieX2

              i have some chef friends who never cook at home because they do it 12-16 hours a day all week.

              they eat out at restaurants helmed and owned by their friends on days off.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                But are they parents? If they are I question their priorities.

                My brother is a chef and he joked that he didn't ask his wife to type when she got home so she shouldn't ask him to cook. That changed when he had kids.

                I crunch numbers all day. The last thing i want to do after a 60 hour work week is to do more. But as a parent i would be remiss not to teach my son to balance a checkbook or handle his finances, to budget or even help with homework.

                Sometimes being a parent means putting other things first.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  So true, so very true. Until you have lived it, don't judge. Great input!

                2. re: foodieX2

                  They CAN pass it on but doesn't mean they always do. But, if they can't cook, then they can't pass it on. It's a good question for the OP. We can guess why he never bothered to pass it on instead of guessing. I'm a personal trainer and my daughter flunked jumping rope (not literally but she was written up for not being able to do it). Her lack of interest.

                  1. re: chowser

                    Yes but did you try to teach her and she chose not to learn? i think that is completely different that choosing not to teach at all. To be suddenly surprises that your 18-26 year olds can't cook and/or who don't know the difference between zucchini and cucumber seems as much as fail on the parents as it is on the kids

                    I have taught my son many things he is not interested in but that I feel are important life skills. Ones that he likes he does well (make milk shakes, flip chocolate chip pancakes, swim, sing badly) and things he doesn't like he doesn't do well-make his bed, sort laundry, folding clothes but the fact is he knows *how* to do them.

                    And there are certain things I have chosen to pick my battles on too.

                    1. re: foodieX2

                      To be clear, all of my kids do know the difference between the two. However, I bet you would be very surprised if you went into a any high school and put up a chart of vegetables and fruits in one section and their according names in another. Then ask each student to match them. My guess is that most would fail. The bottom line here is, if our kids were such great cooks, why are fast food chains ruling the food world and obesity is running rampant? Furthermore, I am not calling out any child that can cook and was taught by their parents, it was simple an observation. Thanks

                      1. re: ChefBriancooks

                        I was in a grocery store and it was close to Passover. There was a young woman on the phone to her mom. Apparently the mother had told her to get a fresh horseradish root and gave her a description. She picked up a parsnip, I shook my head and told her what it was. She said to her mother, still on the phone "Mom! I nearly bought a parsnip!" I then showed her what she was looking for. Pretty funny at the time.

                        1. re: Candy

                          That's what the produce guys are for, if other kind shoppers aren't nearby. There's a first time for everything and produce is tricky with multiple items in close bins so price-labels may not be aligned. I was nearly 50 before I bought radicchio (for a recipe), and needed to ask for help.

              2. I have to agree with everyone else. Why can't your kids cook? Look in the mirror. As a chef I would have thought you would have relished teaching them, even if it was just the basics.

                My son is 12 and has been an active part of the shopping, cooking and cleaning since he started eating solid food. He is currently going thru a picky/limited food choice stage so if he doesn't like dinner he is on his own. If I hadn't taught him to cook he would either be going hungry or living on peanut butter toast.

                3 Replies
                1. re: foodieX2

                  Alternatively, sometimes kids (consciously or not) avoid doing what their parents do.

                  1. re: lamb_da_calculus

                    As a profession sure! And again its one thing to try and teach your child something and them choosing not too. Its another not to try and teach at all.

                    So much of teaching is simply modeling behavior and getting kids involved. I never gave my son "lessons" on how to use a knife and fork, set a table, put a napkin on his lap or even whisk eggs. It was an ongoing process of hands on activity.

                    Often times "teaching" is just taking the time to do things together.

                  2. re: foodieX2

                    Hi foodie, the answer to your question is, my kids do and can cook. My point in bringing them into this discussion was simply to point out that its just not the same as I was growing up. I guess there may be too many options out here now. Nothing seems to be done from scratch anymore. I do value your input, great thoughts, thanks.

                  3. My 20 year old sister in law wasn't really allowed in the kitchen much growing up- the MIL is pretty controlling so she's the one that makes things how she wants them and doesn't want her kitchen "messed up." I don't think that's too unusual of a situation- none of her friends cook unless they work at fast food joints and when I think about it many people my age that I knew growing up didn't learn to cook until they moved out of their parents houses and needed to learn.

                    SIL stayed with us a few days a week last year and eariler this year while she attended the school close to us and while she was here she tried many different foods that her meat-and-potatoes Mom and Dad don't eat. That led her to be curious and ask how to make a couple of things.

                    We had a lot of fun in the kitchen. I insisted she learn some basics as well as teaching her to make creme brulee and bananas foster (her requests so she could impress her boyfriend.)

                    In the case of the OP, maybe the kids didn't learn because they didn't need to, someone else was always doing the cooking.

                    We learn many things in life out of necessity.

                    1. My Gen Y nephew loves to cook. Clearly for whatever reasons your kids weren't introduced to cooking at home, but don't attribute that to a whole generation.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Hi Ruth, I'm not calling out a whole generation. I used the generation to describe the era. Of course there are many Gen Yers out there that can cook. I was just noticing the lack of many that can't. The question was to find out if I was the only one who felt this way. Great input, thanks!

                      2. I just about fit into gen y and I can cook pretty damn well. Most of it is self taught, but growing up me and my sister were always encouraged to help out with cooking family meals. My parents supplied us with the basics and as an adult I could build upon those basics. If it is all done for you, then you don't even grasp the basics, like another poster said, gotta start kids young.

                        I think the bigger problem stems from how easy it is to buy pre-made food you just have to heat up, but a whole whack of age ranges are guilty of taking the easy route.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Musie

                          This is so true; I am not Gen Y (haha, I fit in Baby Boomer), but my dear Mom never made me cook, even though I helped in the kitchen. When I married, my DH ate a lot of grilled cheeses, tomato soup & choc. pudding pie, until my skills advanced.

                            1. re: Musie

                              +1 I'm the same, gen Y, I love to cook, I do it for fun and when I'm bored. I love learning new recipes and honing my skills. Although I only have about two friends in my age bracket that do the same.

                            2. I do think it is easier these days for non-cooking adults to get by, as long as they have enough money. The prepared meals in supermarkets are as good as those at lower to midprice restaurants for less money, though they are still a lot costlier than cooking from scratch. When I was first on my own, in the 1970's, they did not even exist. If you didn't cook, your options were frozen and canned grocery items, or restaurants.

                              I do think parents should teach their children basic life skills, like it or not. Growing up in the era I did, I learned to cook, clean, and sew. How I wish my father had shown me how to fix a car, a faucet, and a broken appliance - all things he could do, but none of which a father in those days would have thought to teach his daughter. And if he'd asked me if I would like to learn, I'd have said no.

                              Today's parents, and grandparents, should require kids to learn what their elders know, like it or not. Chances are they will need these skills and more, eventually, and will be belatedly appreciative.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: greygarious

                                Good point on having money. My niece has found that many of the prepared foods she enjoyed when living at home don't make sense now that she is on her own. Its cheaper to make many of those foods at home and she know how to make them.

                                She also recognizes that many of her less skilled friends find it "cheaper" to eat off the $1 menu than to make comparable food at home. If you can't cook and don't have the skills or the equipment buying a fast food cheese burger, fries and a coke is a lot cheaper than buying what is needed to make it yourself. Needless to say they end up at her apt most weekends!

                              2. Lack of basic cooking *skills* at age eighteen, I think, is mainly the parents' issue - either the parents don't cook, or they don't want their kids in the kitchen with them, or they haven't bothered to teach them the basics from a young age. You can get the occasional kid who spontaneously decides to teach themselves to cook, or is forced to learn due to family responsibilities, but usually it's the parents.

                                Afterwards - it's quite possible to have a young adult who knows the basics of cooking but doesn't use them. A few years of dorm food in university, small and/or shared apartments with poor cooking facilities, a busy or erratic schedule or a job with a lot of travel, access to cheap take out, deli or pre-prepared foods make it easy to get well into your twenties or thirties without ever cooking anything more complicated than pasta with jarred sauce and bagged salad.

                                Where I live a one bedroom apartment typically doesn't have a kitchen - you might have a single hot-plate, a microwave and a bar fridge, and that's all. Even with a decent kitchen, it can be cheaper to eat out than to cook for yourself. So the incentive to cook is very low, and stays that way basically until you're married and have more than one child.

                                1. My son never was particularly interested in cooking until his mom moved out of the house they were sharing - we had divorced about 12 years before - and there he was with a kitchen and not a lot of income. Soup got boring pretty fast. So we got together on stuff, and of course his main problem was confidence, but once he grasped that any compound of edible ingredients would be at least edible if you didn't burn it he was good to go … but he still depended on me or his GF of the moment for anything fancier than spaghetti.

                                  And then he married a woman who's an okay cook, and then eventually they had their first daughter. She just turned five, and I was delighted to hear that for last Mother's Day she prepared scrambled eggs and toast for her mom's breakfast in bed. She's also made some kickass semi-cooked granola for me two Christmases in a row.

                                  1. I think young people are young, and by definition, inexperienced. As a Gen X-er, I would say that Gen Y is way more into cooking, nutrition, food media, and diverse flavours than we were at their age. I am often amazed at my Gen Y friends' enthusiasm for canning, home brewing, cooking, curing, and palate education. In short, I could not possibly disagree more with the OP. I am encouraged, inspired, and frankly humbled by the next generation. The kids are alright.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: plasticanimal

                                      This puzzled me as well. Fooding almost seems like this generations clubbing, to me. They seem WAY more interesting in food and its preparation than previous generations.

                                    2. Gen y-er here, as well. I definitely agree with the point that it is much easier these days for people to get by without cooking. So many things at the grocery store have been geared towards convenience. You have the prepared meals, which has already been mentioned, but even other things. In example, my local Wegmans sells all the ingredients to prepare a pizza all in one little convenient area. The cheese, sauce, meat, veggies all cut, dough, it's all there. It's no longer about preparing and planning a meal from the ground up. I do realize that even buying all this stuff you still have to assemble the pizza, including rolling out the dough and it's not completely the same as throwing a frozen pizza in the oven, but it certainly makes it a lot easier. Also, the onslaught of all the fast casual restaurants gives people a lot of different options, as well.

                                      For me personally, I grew up with a stay at home mom, and she did cook most of our meals, but I can't say my interest in cooking was anything I was taught or learned from her. Like I said, sure, I saw her cooking, but she never sat me down to teach me, nor did I ask. When I wanted to cook something, I just did. I guess I kind of taught myself to cook and its never been something that was difficult for me. On the other side of that, my 23 year old younger brother, who obviously grew up in the same household as me, is fairly clueless when it comes to cooking. He knows some things, but it's just not anything he's taken much of an interest in. My point being is that maybe it has less to do with a particular generation and more to do with one's personal interest.

                                      3 Replies
                                        1. re: ChefBriancooks

                                          Pretty hard to cook, text, play video games and talk on the phone all at the same time, at least one's gotta go, usually it's cooking. Just as long as we maintain enough room in the garbage can for the pizza boxes.

                                      1. I'm a BOOMER, and got a really good kitchen education from my Grandmother. Totally surprised when I went away to college and found that some people had NO idea what to do with something like chicken pieces??

                                        Have Gen-X niece who wanted to be a SAHM when first (and 2nd) child came along, but didn't think she could AFFORD to stay home?!? She worked as an aide in a day care center... cost of day care for HER kid(s) would be WAY more $$ than she MADE! Told her she needed to TOSS drawer full of take-out menus... or at least use SPARINGLY. Thought I was a "gourmet chef" when I brought over pot-o-chili after 1st baby was born. For a while was sending her recipes... like what to do with a lb of hamburger. She's come a LONG way!

                                        I work as a teacher aide with special needs kids (HS age), and school has an elective called "Food & Nutrition". Worked with 2 girls... on open to try about anything, the other only ate cookies/cakes.

                                        1. Maybe our expectations have changed as well. In my father's generation, men weren't expected to know how to cook. My father can't cook. At all. He doesn't even grill. He can make a sandwich and heat leftovers and stuff out of a can. But no one says, The Greatest Generation can't cook, just because most of the men can't.

                                          1. My gen y daughter certainly knows food and makes some very tasty things. Recently she had the epiphany...you mean I can save a ton of money and eat way better food!?!

                                            1. I agree it may have to do with money. Dining out in the DC area, I notice a lot of 20-somethings and I couldn't afford to eat out hardly ever at that age.
                                              I think as a parent, it's imperative to teach basic cooking skills, laundry, etiquette etc.
                                              I had a lot of catching up to do when I left home. My mom cooked all the time, but I think she saw that as her duty and so she just... did it. I was never expected to cook for the family and my mom feel that I needed to learn her key recipes.
                                              Wish I had now though.

                                              1. That age group, in particular, has lots of competing priorities too. College, grad school, launching a career. Most are probably not yet parents. It could be that the OP's kids become more interested in cooking as they age a bit. I see lots of late 20s/early 30s folks very interested in food in my area.

                                                1. Baby boom parent here of a GenY son, now age 25. At 20, our son was probably a more accomplished cook than either of his parents at the same age although all of us were pretty comparable as cooks at that age -- could scramble eggs and other breakfast foods, knew a handful of dinner suitable recipes, but would have been hard-pressed to cook dinner for a whole week, without extensive reference to cook books. Now 25 and been living on his own for 4 years, he is very comfortable in the kitchen.

                                                  I have no idea whether he is emblematic of his generation or not. Gross generalizations based on anecdotal evidence is rarely reliable. Had I tried to evaluate the cooking skills of baby boomer men in 1990 solely on the basis of my husband and his brother, I would have concluded that they cook dinner from scratch every night.

                                                  1. KIDS THESE DAYS! *shakes fist*

                                                    I'm Gen Y, and I can cook. No thanks to my mom and dad, who are of your generation and barely taught me anything, although my mom can certainly cook well. This year for Christmas I've requested that she, her sister, and my grandmother put together a book of family recipes for me to follow, since I remember things from my childhood that I loved but have no idea how to make.

                                                    So it really depends on the parents and what they pass down.

                                                    1. After watching all the Gen Yers carrying sacks of laundry to the dry cleaner to be washed, I'm more concerned about theirs laundry skills.