Celebrate National Nutrition Month with Hudson Valley Chef Stacey Hawkins

The Time Savor Gourmet describes how to encourage kids in the kitchen

How to encourage kids in the kitchen

As a local Hudson Valley chef and mom I know how busy parents are. I'm going to show parents how easy it is to cook in the kitchen with their children and create healthy meals. March is National Nutrition Month. Instead of ranting about the importance of good nutrition, I’d prefer to use this opportunity to encourage parents to teach their kids how to cook. “Why bother?” you might ask. Each week I get hundreds of emails. Many of them are from desperate men and women who need help cooking. Why do they need help? They tell me, “My mom never let me near the kitchen and I never
learned how to cook!” That’s not what you want for your children. You want responsible, well-fed and independent kids, who know that butter knives are not just for prying Play-Doh off the floor.

Relinquish Control

It’s time to relinquish control and get your kids (and spouses or boyfriends or whomever) into the kitchen. It’s good for you. It’s better for them! I know, you’re going to say, “WHAT? That’s such a hassle!” Yes. It might be a hassle in the beginning, but the rewards will pay off handsomely for everyone.

Getting Started
Getting kids involved is easy. Their participation in preparing their own meals will give them a sense of power and control. Start slowly. Even children as young as four or five can help set the table, pour beverages, clear away dinner plates, and load the dishwasher. When your kids are around eight years old, they can start using sharp knives under close supervision. Teach them basic cutting skills. I’ve got a great YouTube video on my website that teaches kids how to properly use knifes. Please check it out. Kids of this age can also use veggie peelers to make a great salad. Let them make their own snacks after school. Teach them how to use the microwave.

Don’t rush

There are many great ways to get started. You’ll need to plan your lessons to fit your schedule. Don’t rush this process, because that will send kids the wrong message. Consider starting this project when you have a little time, perhaps just before lunch on a Saturday or Sunday. Whatever you do, give them plenty of encouragement. Perfect food preparation skills don’t develop overnight, so be patient and don’t scold them. Teach them that cooking is fun!

Using the stove and oven

Children as young as eight can begin learning how to use the stove and oven, but only under close supervision. You’ll need to gauge your child’s abilities and eagerness. Some may be afraid they’ll get burned and prefer to wait until they feel ready to make the leap. That’s alright. Let them start by watching you cook. They’ll probably have a lot of questions for you. Give them time to feel comfortable in the kitchen. They’ll let you know when they’re ready to give it a go.

Skills that last

Getting your kids involved in the kitchen should be a fun process. It will help them learn to make healthy choices. If done correctly, the experience should be rewarding for everyone. If you can teach your children how to cook, you’ll give them skills that will last a lifetime.

Stacey Hawkins is a CIA trained chef and owner of Time Savor Gourmet. She specializes in fun, fast and easy family meals. She teaches cooking classes to children and adults throughout the Hudson Valley.