Teaching Teenagers To Cook

28/01/2014 14:10 | Updated 22 May 2015

Teaching teenagers to cookjupiterimages

I'm already looking back fondly on the holidays. We didn't go away. We didn't spend loads of money on extravagant days out and we didn't all fall out.

But I was a bit anxious beforehand. What to do? How to fill the days with three children of mixed sex and ranging in age from eight to 14? But then (with apologies to Horrid Henry) I had a spectacular, fantastic idea. I decided to extend the new cooking rule I introduced into our family in January.

Once a week the two older children have to plan and cook a meal for our family of five. Nothing is off limits, and I'm happy to give guidance, but essentially they have to come up with the recipe (which they can get from the internet, the newspaper, a magazine a friend or a cook book) and they have to make sure the dish will feed us all.

It also can't be sausage and chips.

Whilst initially I was met with groans, it soon became apparent that relinquishing control of my shiny clean kitchen, whilst hard for me, would in the long term pay huge dividends. Now twice a week I don't have to think about what we're going to eat and interestingly my children are much politer about their siblings' culinary creations than they are about mine.

So ok we've had the odd mishap. They learned pretty early on to read the recipe all the way through: 'Mu-ummm' I heard a wail one evening, "'it says marinate for three hours, what does that mean?'

'It means supper will be late.'

Equally, they have now clocked you need to make sure you have all your ingredients before you start cooking – a chicken stir fry tastes kind of, well chicken-less, without the meat.

But I'm determined to continue with this new regime – I want my children to be able to cook for themselves – then hopefully if we can afford to send them off to university – they'll be all set up to eat healthily and won't be living off pizzas. (I can dream.)

Anyway,the holidays presented an ideal opportunity for the two eldest to further their cooking skills, so I set them a new task – they could plan the week's menu, as well as going to the shop for any ingredients which weren't already in the fridge or cupboard.

And I can smugly reply that we ate really well – but with the odd mistake which only served to teach them a useful lesson.

So Louise's chilli con carne was delicious – if a painful experience for her: she'll never again rub her eye whilst chopping chillis. My son's leek and potato soup was to die for – although failing to double the recipe to feed five made for a meagre, if slimming, Tuesday night meal.

Scones, prawn stir-fry, lemon drizzle cake, pork and vegetable spring rolls and shepherd's pie have all hit the mark. Shopping for some of the ingredients also used up some of the time, and on occasions they even took the eight-year-old with them to the local supermarket – so I even got a couple of occasions when there was no-one in the house but me. (I confess I was delighted when they forgot onions one day – I sent them all back to get them.)

But joking aside, teaching your children to plan and cook meals is a life skill they will one day thank you for. You just have to put up with the huge learning curve along the way.

Top tips to teaching your children to cook

Keep it simple.

Start off by letting them help you. Grit your teeth when they are slow and clumsy – we probably all were when we started cooking.

Reiterate the need to check you have all ingredients and utensils before starting to cook.

Remind them to read the whole recipe through so they know it's either a quick one-pan-wonder or a super-slow casserole. You don't want to be waiting up until midnight on a school night for tea.

Make sure they clear up after themselves. It's no help to you if you are left with the washing up and anyway, clearing up is part of the whole learning to cook process.

Good luck!

Do your children cook? Do you have any favourite recipes or top tips to share?

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