Twice a week, Bridget Dorantes lives every parent’s fantasy. When she arrives home from work famished, this Guelph, Ont., mom knows a hot meal is either in the works or waiting on the table for her. Her two sons each plan and cook a dinner once a week. Sixteen-year-old Gabe’s specialty is pesto pasta with chickpeas — something he “conjured up” without a recipe. And Simon, 15, whips up veggie-egg burritos and pies from scratch.
If such dinner dreams aren’t your reality, don’t despair. Some teens are naturally attracted to cooking and others aren’t, says Julie Van Rosendaal, author of Starting Out: The Essential Guide to Cooking on Your Own (Whitecap). Fortunately, it’s easy to turn teens on to the joy of cooking. “It’s a great creative outlet that doesn’t involve TV or computers,” she says. And slicing and dicing alongside your kids can lead to amazing conversations. Craving a kid who cooks? Try these tips:
Start by following your kids’ preferences, says Van Rosendaal. If they love Thai or Indian food, ask if they’d like to try to make it at home or perhaps sign up for a cooking class. During the holidays, encourage cash-strapped teens to make treats to give away as gifts. Flip through cookbooks together; visit the library or bookstore to freshen your collection. Or give cool cooking utensils or cookbooks as gifts. Simon Dorantes’ current favourite is Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef (Hyperion). If your teen’s discovered the opposite sex, appeal to his steamy side. “My dad tells me girls like guys who can cook,” says Gabe.
Once you’ve piqued their interest, demonstrate the fundamentals by cooking alongside them. Dorantes says her kids learned to cook by watching and cooking with her. Teach them to read a recipe right through to make sure they have everything they need. Show them how to use a knife safely, but don’t expect expert chopping techniques, advises Van Rosendaal. Also, stress food safety such as hand washing and using different cutting boards for raw meat and vegetables.
Some kids feel more “cheffy” if they try the techniques used on TV cooking shows. So dazzle them with tricks you’ve mastered like peeling garlic by smashing cloves with the side of a knife blade or cracking an egg with one hand, says Van Rosendaal. Even if it takes five tries to get it right, encourage your teen by telling her you’ll teach her how to make an omelette or quiche with the eggs.
Kitchen clean-up is a dirty word for teens. To keep them keen, help your kids clean up after they prepare food. Or, as Dorantes does, make a rule that whoever cooks the meal doesn’t have to load the dishwasher or tidy the kitchen.
Encourage and celebrate their culinary creations. “The effort, not the outcome, is important,” stresses Dorantes. So, she doesn’t fuss when her sons serve dinner without the requisite green veggie on the side or if the pasta is a little overdone. And though your teen may not find her bliss by cooking, most are happy to gain some skills. As Gabe says, “I’m not much of a cook, but I like the feeling that I’m making a contribution.”
Amy Baskin is a Guelph, Ont., writer who loves to sample her teens’ cooking creations (including slow-cooker chocolate cake!).