You want your kid to be able to cook. It will help ensure they don’t live with you after college. It gives them something to impress their future spouse on a third date, and you’ll rest easier knowing they can … you know … feed themselves. It’s also the kind of ritual that strengthens families.
“Cooking from scratch brings people together and makes them realize they can do this in a familial environment and enjoy the atmosphere,” says Hugh Acheson, the James Beard-winning chef behind 4 critically acclaimed restaurants and his newest book The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits. This father of 2 started teaching his girls the basics when they were just 3, and on his oldest daughter’s first day of kindergarten, he woke up to find her in the kitchen mixing a homemade vinaigrette for the salad she’d prepared herself.
Your kid might need a few more years to achieve salad dressing mastery, but here’s where to start.
Start With Breakfast Foods And Salads
If you work full time, weekend mornings probably provide you the most time to spend in the kitchen with your kids, so breakfast is a natural place to start. Also, it’s easy. Go with the basics, like scrambled eggs, omelettes, hash browns, and pancakes, because the simplicity of these foods make them less intimidating for you and your kids. If you want it to be more intimidating, make your pancakes in the shape of monsters.
Let your kid feel involved in every other meal by putting them in charge salads. Teach a3-1 vinaigrette recipe, buy somekid-friendly knives so they can dice the veggies, and let them spin it all together. “Washing the lettuce and using a salad spinner is always fun for kids,” he says, without adding the obvious corollary: Kids are simple.
Focus On The Local Cooking Style
Teach the style and foods indigenous to your region, and your kid will never be short of fresh ingredients, niche spices, and savvy advice from neighbors. While you’re at it,teach them how to shop for that stuff too. And if you live somewhere that forces the best local produce to hide for four months during winter, pickle. “Pickling shows kids that you can take [something] in abundance when the price is cheap, bottle it up, and save it for the year,” he says. “It shows a sense of thriftiness that I think is culinarily smart.”
Give Your Kid’s Palate Some Culture
“Half of how you teach someone to cook is to have them just be around good food, and they pick up on it through various ways of just watching and learning,” Acheson says. Aside from visiting countries of origin, the most effective way for a kid to learn different flavors and spices is to first discover them in a quality restaurant themed around one specific culture. The experience will help categorize flavors in their head, and they won’t grow up thinking “cardamom” is just a flattery technique bartenders use on older women.
Teach Some Protein Policies
Meats tend to come with lots of rules that real chefs like Acheson get grilled into them from an early age. Instead of inundating your kid with meat mantras, he recommends teaching these key (meat) nuggets of wisdom:
- Steak: He prefers a 1 ½ to 2-inch ribeye: “I like a pretty thick steak; you get more control over cooking it … And you can carve one down for 4 people.” NY strip is his “close second,” and Acheson never chooses the ever tender-yet-flavorless beef tenderloin.
- Burgers: His ideal burger is simple: sustainably raised 80-20 ground chuck with “salt, pepper, and maybe a dash of Worchester[shire sauce]. That’s about it,” he says. “Don’t maul it too much” by mashing all the juices out. That’s where the real flavor is.
- Salmon: “If you’re cooking salmon with the skin on, get that skin really dry and cook it really slowly over medium heat,” he says. “Crisp it up, turn it over briefly, then you’re going to finish it in the oven.”
- Chicken and Pork: Wash your hands. Wash them again.
Leave Your Kid Knowing 3 Meals
Acheson says you can call your lessons a success if your kid leaves the house someday with the ability to make the following meals from scratch:
- Caesar Salad: “I think that’s a meal upon itself if you make it properly. You can always add a protein if you want.”
- Rice and Beans: “Louisiana-style rice and beans is a one-pot wonder of cooking.”
- Roasted Chicken and Gravy: “That’s usually with different vegetables: succotash, sliced tomatoes, or okra this time of year.”
Follow Acheson’s advice, and you’ll give your little chef healthier eating habits, a sense of self- sufficiency, a childhood filled with father-bonding time, and lifetime access to delicious meals that don’t break the bank. And there’s no gift more valuable for a college-bound kid, which will be even more true after you blow their college savings on the family Eurotrip to “culture everyone’s palate.”