I’m always surprised by how many people we know that “don’t cook”. I ask them what they eat, and its generally pre-packaged fresh foods, take out, or frozen meals. Convenience foods are, well, convenient!  We have some with regularity, particularly foods like pot stickers, spring rolls, Trader Joe’s frozen dinners if its just for me (love the Indian food!).  While I do make bread sometimes, I don’t make all of our bread.  We love store bought sushi from the sushi counters at the grocery store, and every now and then I do buy one of those non-free-range $5 Costco rotisserie chickens when I’m “low on spoons”. My point here is that what’s below is my ideal and not my 100%, and there can be a happy medium between the two.

Here’s why I teach my kids to cook

Give them the gift of a “Family Favorite”. Prepackaged foods are often (though not always) more expensive than making it yourself, have more preservatives, and frankly lacks the personalization of a favorite meal. Think about your favorite meal or treat a family member makes. Your mother’s chocolate coconut cookies or lemon meringue pie? Is it your grandmother’s potato salad?  Your aunt’s green bean casserole?  Your mother in-law’s scalloped potatoes with ham? None of these can be bought in-store (and they wouldn’t taste the same even if you could), but you can make these things yourself and pass them down to your kids.  Teach your kids to to make their great grandmother’s chicken soup recipe, and one day they might be teaching their own kids to do the same.

Teach them where food comes from.  When my littles were littler, I had a mom friend who lied to her kiddo about what chicken was made of. She couldn’t bear to tell him that chickens were made of chicken, or that pork was made from pigs. He knew these animals from petting zoos and picture books, and (understandably) was appalled at the idea of eating them. I strongly believe in giving kids autonomy over their bodies (this is a whole other post), but essentially it comes down to respecting the choices they make for their own bodies (health issues are an exception, they don’t get to decide if they get shots or take necessary medication). I do want them to understand where food comes from – that chickens are chickens, that pork is pigs, and beef is cows. If they decide even from a young age that they have moral objections to that, I’m ok with it, but I don’t want them to hit 10 years old and say  “What do you mean this is a dead animal! Gross! Why didn’t you tell me!”.  And if they do choose to eat differently from our family we can talk about why, what it means to them, and what we need to do as a family to make sure everyone gets the nutrition they need.

Teach them connection to food. I want them to understand how vital it is not to waste food because its a huge expenditure of energy, life, and money. I want them to know that something grew and lived and died to nourish them. That baby chicks turn into chickens, and they will die if we want to eat them. That amazing steak is most definitely a piece of a cow. I want them to know that it takes a farmer working hard to work their orchards, that the tree took a whole season to grow an apple, that the farmhands worked their asses off to pick those apples, that there’s a truck driver taking them to store, store workers setting them out, and checkers helping us pay for the apple. I could list a hundred different people that all came together to get that apple on the table, the steak to our freezer, or that bread to our pantry. They also need to know that it all costs money – that (in our family) dad goes to work every day to pay for it and mom has to buy and prepare it.

Gardening with your kids (and raising chickens if you can)especially with the little ones, is a great way to connect them to food. Buying seeds, planting them, watering them, and harvesting them helps them understand how things grow, but also that all food came from somewhere – it did not magically appear on the grocery store shelf. The first time I held a warm egg that came out of one of our hens I was absolutely grossed out, but it was a wonderful reminder that living beings grow these eggs.

Teach them what’s in food. Cooking with your kids teaches them what goes into food, and also shows them that what we make at home is different than what you read on the food label from store bought prepared meals. The “hard to read” ingredients aren’t in home-made meals. Why? The answer isn’t always inherently terrible, but at least they will know the difference.

I’m sure I’ll think about this post more with time and update it regularly, but for now the littlest is harassing me to go to, of all places, the grocery store.

In the mean time, here is a recipe for banana chocolate chip muffins. Its the same recipe I used with my mother growing up for banana bread (probably out of the Joy of Cooking book), and now make with my own daughter (plus the addition of chocolate chips).

  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup soft butter
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sugar (or less if you like a lot of chocolate chips)
  • as many milk chocolate chips (not semi sweet) as little hands decide to dump in before I stop them.

There’s probably an order it should be added in, but honestly we just dump everything into the stand mixer and let it go. Put into muffin tins and bake at 350 for 22 mins.