Helping in the Kitchen

People often ask me how I learned to cook, and I never know how to answer. I didn’t ever have cooking lessons, go to culinary school, or anything at all organized or professional. I don’t even have many memories of my mother or anyone else really teaching me how to do anything cooking related―I was just expected to help from a young age, and that somehow resulted in my knowing how to cook and being comfortable in the kitchen.

Now that I have a step-daughter, I’m a lot more aware of ways to subtly teach her to cook and to be comfortable in the kitchen. I don’t want to do any kind of formal teaching, but we make a big effort to include her in cooking whenever we can. Here are some of my favorite ways to include a kid in cooking:

Dumping and mixing
Even kids who are too young to measure out ingredients themselves can dump premeasured ingredients into a bowl, and mix them around.

Vegetable prep
Young kids can help with some kinds of veggie prep. The more advanced can peel vegetables, but if your kid isn’t quite there yet, he or she can shell peas, or trim green beans (just snapping off the ends) pull the trunks out of mushrooms, and break broccoli or cauliflower into florets. Bonus: helping with veggies often makes kids more likely to eat the veggies.

Greasing pans and garnishing
Little things like spraying a pan with cooking spray, or adding a dollop of yogurt to a bowl of soup, can be fun and easy ways for kids to help with low stakes.

Anything involving dough
Braiding challah, rolling out pie dough, and using cookie cutters on cookie dough are all fun for people of all ages.

I also like to give kids cookbooks that they might get into. I’ve heard great things about Mollie Katzen’s Pretend Soup and I’m a big fan of this British young man’s cookbook for kids Sam Stern’s Cooking Up a Storm. It’s for teens, technically, but I’ve found younger kids like it, too.