It is never too early to start teaching children to cook

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A beautiful sunny Monday morning. Sometimes it seems hard to equate beautiful and Monday in the same sentence, but today, it’s all true. The grass is green, part of my garden is planted and spring is all around us. Good times all around.

One thing that makes any time better is having family or friends around. This brings me to the point of exactly that: family and cooking.

I can remember as a kid when the ladies of the house did all the cooking. I don’t know if men weren’t allowed in the kitchen or if they simply chose not to be, but I know one thing, they weren’t in there. Plain and simple. For the most part, the kids weren’t either. We were all too busy playing to concern ourselves with food.

From a young age my son expressed an interest in cooking. When he was five years old, he was sitting on the countertop chopping veggies. I can’t say that his mother was all that thrilled about him having a knife and cutting away, but in the end, it all worked out fine and he’s now a great cook. So often I get asked the question, when is the proper time to bring children in the kitchen?

The answer to that question is simple: as soon as they show an interest. This past December, my family and I were on vacation and my nephews helped me make guacamole. One of them is five years old and the other is two. They loved it and both ate tons of the gauc we made. The key was, they wanted to help.

I have done several speeches about how to get kids interested in cooking and the main theme of those talks is always the same: let the little ones help you. When they are invested in the process they are more likely to eat the finished product. Understand that everything takes more time when kids are helping. It’s time well spent though, so really, in the end, it’s worth it.

I always told my son, there’s no mess he can make that we can’t clean up. Kids are messy; it’s just part of what makes them who they are. Flour gets spilled, liquids get dumped, and the counters take a beating. To have your child grow up being able to cook awesome meals for him or herself is all the payback we ever need.

So next comes the question of how to involve other people in the cooking process. This question is the same no matter if it’s children helping or if it’s your spouse, which in some cases may seem to be one in the same. Adding extra bodies to the kitchen working area can be worrisome, especially if a person is used to doing it all by themselves.

First of all, look at it from the point of view that it’s going to be helpful. Having extra hands in the kitchen means less work, even though it may take more work at first to get them going. In the end, it means tasks get done quicker and it’s extra time to be spent with family and friends.

Explain to them what you are doing and how you are doing it. Give them simple tasks at first, stirring or even measuring things. As they learn more, allow them more difficult tasks, such as chopping foods, prep work and sautéing. Each process in the kitchen can be broken down and tackled by the group rather than feeling like it needs to be done by one or the other. If you are making burgers for instance, let someone mix in cheeses or spices, let someone pat out the burgers and finally, let someone else do the cooking. It allows each person to be involved and lowers the stress level of everyone. In the end, everyone eats because they feel they were a part of preparation. Plus, it’s harder for them to complain about the food if they were involved in the making.

In the end having people help is a good thing. This past week I had a bout of illness and didn’t feel like cooking. My son came home, cooked Italian sausage, made raviolis and garlic bread and we had a wonderfully delicious dinner and the best part was, I got to help out while he did the bulk of the cooking. All the lessons we had gone through paid off, and he was ready to cook on his own. Actually, it tasted better than if I had done it all myself.

Sometimes it’s hard to incorporate new people into our kitchens. We all have ways we want things done and we convince ourselves it’s just easier to do it our way than to allow people to help. I have been guilty of that in the past. Now I realize, not only does it save me time when people help, it also allows them to grow as cooks. Oh, and spending time with them in the kitchen is pretty awesome as well. Remember, eat well always my friends. 


Shawn Keeton is author of the cookbook, “Keeton in the Kitchen, A Celebration of Family, Friends and Food.” He resides in Carrollton, Ky.