photo credit Dan Chan
By Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc, FDC
When my daughter Abbey was 9 years old, she asked for a puppy for Christmas. For many different reasons, it just wasn’t the right time for a puppy in our family, so I asked Abbey what the next item was on her wish list. Her reply – “a cherry red Kitchen Aid stand mixer!”
Seven years later, that cherry red Kitchen Aid stand mixer still sits proudly on our kitchen counter and is used often! As a dietitian and chef’s daughter, I’m a passionate advocate for building our kids’ cooking skills and food literacy.
It can start when they’re babies, playing “drums” with a wooden spoon on an upside-down pot. When my kids were toddlers, they helped with simple tasks such as tearing lettuce, washing berries and cracking eggs. And as older kids, they helped read recipes, measure ingredients and practiced basic knife skills.
Fast forward to today and Ben, my eldest, is heading off to university in September. Abbey will be starting grade 12 and leaving the nest next fall. While there are meal plans on campus, both kids are interested in choosing a residence which has a kitchen. It feels so good to know that they’ll be able to cook some healthy meals and snacks while living on their own.
Cooking is an essential life skill and fosters healthy eating. When teens eat well, they’re fueled for study, work and play. Here are ways to build your teen’s food skills and confidence in the kitchen.
1. Search and find.
Invite your teen to search online or flip through cookbooks to find a recipe that THEY would like to make. Avoid judging the recipe they choose. The idea is to nurture their interest in cooking. Ben found a recipe for Macaroni and Cheese made with cream and a brown butter breadcrumb topping – it was delicious!
2. Cook for a cause.
Find a charity or worthy cause. When Abbey was in grade five and six, she baked over 100 cupcakes to raise money for the OSPCA’s (Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) charity cupcake fundraiser, raising nearly $800 (can you visualize our stand mixer in action?!). Not to mention, she learned a thing or two about accounting, marketing and customer service. My neighbor’s kids down the street host an annual bake sale to raise money for the World Wildlife Foundation. Teens are interested in giving back to their communities.
3. Learn together.
Take a vegetarian cooking class with your teen or go on a local food tour. Teach them your family recipes. Encourage your teen to share their own knowledge and learn from others too. Abbey at age 10 taught my retired aunt how to bake and decorate a chocolate cake with buttercream icing. And Abbey learned how to make delicious Passover matzo balls from her best friend. Food unites us!
4. Appoint a chef for the day.
Ask your teen to prepare one complete meal on their own about once a month or even more often. It could be breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack or dessert. The “chef” can choose the recipe and shop for the ingredients too. It’s truly a proud moment for them to serve their final creation to the family!
Have fun in the kitchen!
P.S. We did bring home a puppy two years ago – a friendly little Australian Labradoodle whom we named Sully!