Filling Their Own Bellies: Why (and How) I Teach My Kids to Cook

My youngest loves to help me cook every day. I’ve tried and tried with my oldest, but I think she’s traumatized by an incident two years ago when I had her help with cutting up a whole chicken. I guess there’s a lot to be said for keeping a little mystery when you’re feeding your kids. They don’t necessarily want or need to know what it looked like in its raw state!

Cooking with Kids

Little hands can make big cookies!

The raw chicken episode notwithstanding, I think it’s really important for kids to learn about what goes into the meals on their family table. It’s another reason I love the holidays: This is the one time of year when I can usually draw them both into the cooking and baking. We make lots of cookies—some for our own family, some for friends, and some for a local homeless shelter. I bring the kids with me to deliver the cookies, and they’re always so proud of having made something to nourish another person on more than one level. My daughter makes our cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries. My son, with some supervision, is in charge of manning the can opener. Little as they may be, both kids know how to peel a potato. (And since they both love mashed potatoes more than life itself, it’s easy to get them to do the work for it!)

When I say I want my kids to learn about putting food on our table, I don’t just mean measuring the ingredients and seeing how these are put together. I also mean knowing about the ingredients themselves. When we eat mangoes, for example, I’ll say to the kids, “Too bad we can’t have a mango tree in Wisconsin.” Then I’ll talk with them about the wonderful kinds of places mangoes can grow and what a long journey they make to get to our stores. When we eat pickles from the store versus pickles we’ve made from our own garden, we’ll talk about all the time and planning that goes into making just one little jar of pickles. We often talk about how fortunate we are that we don’t have to raise our own cattle and process them if we want beef—what a luxury that is and all the dishes we eat that include beef, from the homemade spaghetti sauce we all love to our fallback tacos on busy school nights.

Kids shouldn’t grow up thinking their food just magically appears on our table. They turn into grownups that do the same. (I know a few of those!) I want my children to appreciate the work that goes into their nourishment, from seed to soufflé, from farm to table.

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