- Joellen Monson
Every parent has their own set of priorities for the innumerable "basic" elements we teach our growing children - the ones that we believe are crucial and will serve them well as they mature into adulthood. Teaching kids valuable life skills includes basic survival techniques - buckle up for safety, look both ways before you cross the street, buy wholesale not retail, and always have at least one easy, delicious recipe you can make for yourself or friends.
On a recent trip to one of Seattle, Washington's great restaurants, Dahlia Lounge, the renown cookbook author, chef and owner Tom Douglas stopped by to chat and in the process shared his personal belief about the importance of children learning to cook at the hands of their parents. If you read the introduction of his book, "Tom's Big Dinners" he writes about his own experience growing up in a large family where everyone contributed in some way, each with their own job to do, before everyone sat down to eat and where lively conversations were a necessary ingredient of every meal.
Not simply about food preparation - cooking is an art. And a science and an opportunity for learning about economics, math, history, world events and socializing. There are any number of valuable life lessons that happen around this daily ritual.
By encouraging your child at a young age to participate in this family activity, something that might feel like a tedious chore to you can become a shared activity. Not to mention the fact that children are often much more willing to take on the adventure of trying a new food if they've been a part of choosing or preparing it with you. Through helping to shop for ingredients, your child can learn about how much things actually cost - the importance of budgeting and comparison shopping. The economics of stretching a dollar or stretching a recipe to last another meal.
Cooking also involves following rules. There are math measurement skills (how many quarts in a gallon?) and science conversion (turning a solid to liquid)which become real life applications of things they learn in school but yield yummy results. Much of the art of cooking involves getting creative with the established recipes and substituting or embellishing. Learning when to strictly adhere to rules and when to bend them are things that only time and opportunities for experience can provide -throughout life.
Finally, a main benefit of helping prepare the meal is that it provides an opportunity for you and your child to share time together. When everyone is sitting down to enjoy the fruits of your shared labor, without TVs blaring, without telephone interruptions - conversations about your day, world events (which are age appropriate for them to hear), upcoming events all add up to staying connected as a family. Through learning at your hands, you and your child are building memories that will last a lifetime. And you will be providing them with a range of survival skills that go beyond basics but which will help them to be capable, confident and successful throughout their lives.