Let's Teach Our Kids to Cook - 10 Key Meals

By Casey Seidenberg

My kids aren’t heading to college anytime soon, but with my oldest off to camp this summer, I started to ponder whether I was doing a good enough job teaching him the things he needs to know to live a happy and productive life independent of me. In his 2010 TED presentation, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver announced his hope that “every single American child leaves [high] school knowing how to cook 10 recipes that will save their lives.” Because many chronic diseases can be prevented by proper nutrition, I agree with Oliver; for our kids’ sake, we should teach them to cook.

Have I taught my son how to cook? I hate to admit that the answer is no, I haven’t. I’ve taught him about healthful choices, and I’ve fed him well every day. At 9 years old, he is familiar with the kitchen, and he knows how to peel, chop and measure, but if he were at college right now, I doubt he would know how to make a real meal for himself.

I imagine he will have limited cooking equipment those first years on his own, along with a limited budget, but fast food, takeout and prepared meals shouldn’t be his only options. I want him to know what to do with all of the healthful vegetables and foods we’ve eaten here at home so he can nourish his body and brain. So I am on a new mission to teach my kids to cook, starting with 10 recipes that will nourish them, inexpensively, and make them a big hit on Super Bowl day — or, dare I say, on a date?

Eventually, I hope to designate my son in charge of cooking dinner for the family once a week,  in the meantime, I plan to get him involved in the cooking process more often, teaching him how to determine whether produce is ripe, what “roasting” means and how to saute. As a mother, these are some of the lessons I hope to pass down to him. These, and to write more the next time he goes to camp!

Here is my list; I encourage you to make your own:

1. Bolognese sauce

  • Provides protein and antioxidants.
  • Inexpensive (the only expensive ingredient is good-quality meat.)
  • Can be made in large batches and frozen for the future.
  • Or try a homemade sloppy joe, which has similar nutrients and a similar price tag, and can also be made in big batches.

2. A stir-fry with brown rice

  • Can be prepared with any vegetables or choice of meat.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Quick and easy.
  • Brown rice can be the foundation of many meals, including a simple beans and rice.

3. Roasted chicken

  • An easy entertaining meal.
  • Provides days of leftovers that can be used in sandwiches, salads, soups, stir-fries or burritos or eaten plain.

4. Chili

  • Good source of protein and vegetables.
  • Can be made vegetarian or with meat.
  • Requires just one pot.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Can be made in batches and frozen for another night.
  • Did I mention the Super Bowl?

5. Homemade soup

  • Knowing how to start a homemade soup with onions and garlic can be the root of many easy, inexpensive meals.
  • Add beans or chicken to provide extra protein to a vegetable or noodle soup.
  • Requires just one pot.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Can be made in batches and frozen for another night.
  • Homemade cold medicine when a child gets sick!

6. Fish baked in parchment

  • Provides protein and healthful fats.
  • Quick and easy.
  • Technique works for most varieties of fish.
  • Makes a great filling for tacos or a topping for salad.

7. Eggs

  • Provide important protein to start the day strong.
  • Make an easy dinner, too.
  • Breakfast is not a meal to skip, yet most restaurant and store-bought breakfasts are sugar-laden.

8. Smoothie

  • A healthful breakfast, snack or dessert.

9. Roasted vegetables

  • Any veggie will do; the skill is the same.

10. Guacamole

  • Full of protein and healthful fat.
  • Can even be a meal on its own in a crunch.
  • Always a hit at a party.

First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, October 18, 2012.