Kitchen Experiments

Teaching Kids To Cook

Our Eating Lives features stories about how food, cooking, and eating have shaped who we are and how we live.

I’m teaching my kids 5 and 8 to cook even if it’s as useful as teaching them cursive — a throwback thing some schools are still teaching arguing that it fosters hand-eye coordination and discipline. So does cooking. And you can’t eat a letter. In the kitchen, you’ve got interdisciplinary academics: fractions, measurement, art. In the kitchen there are lessons for life.

What are the dishes I’m teaching them? Not mac and cheese. Not chicken fingers. They’re up to their ears on those in the school cafeteria. No, I want them to have in their culinary toolkit knowledge other than pressing “defrost” on the microwave. At this age I don’t think it’s asking too much of them to teach them how to 1) fry an egg, 2) to make linguine with parsley, garlic and oil, and, 3) to take a jar filled with cream and shake it until they’ve made butter.

So far, we’ve mastered the butter. The kids were so pleased! At last, an understanding of how we get those wax-paper wrapped sticks in the refrigerated section of Trader Joe’s! That butter comes ultimately from cows whose babies have been taking away from them! It really is a transformation when kids understand everything that goes into having buttered toast. All the animals, machinery, land, roads, and people involved.

The egg has been more of a challenge. My daughter, 6, in her eagerness smashed one on the kitchen floor instead of into the bowl. My son, 8, caused the frying pan to fall from the stove, scaring me half to death, and burning a hole in the linoleum. Don’t ask. If you have an eight year old boy in your life you’ll know the answer is ridiculous: he was pretending to be a cheetah.

That’s okay, I said. We have to acknowledge that we’re animals, and must learn how to eat from our parents.



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About Elizabeth Bastos

Elizabeth Bastos has been in the kitchen since she was little, learning at the feet of the master, her grandmother who made oatmeal bread weekly from scratch. Her favorite kitchen implement is the balloon whisk. Her favorite question is what's for dessert. Her food writing has appeared in Food Network Humor, The Smithsonian's Food and Think blog, and the Motherlode blog of the New York Times.

  • Dana Staves

    Love, love, loved this post. My parents started me young with cooking, and if nothing else, it made me fearless in the kitchen. But it’s true – it links what we eat with how it’s made. I enjoyed hearing about the butter in a jar – I want to go try it myself now.