Getting teens in the kitchen has multiple benefits. However, in a global pandemic when we are practicing weeks and even months of social distancing, it’s more important than ever to strengthen connections with our children. Teens in particular thrive on social connections, and being cut off from those connections can be frustrating and disappointing. I have two teen boys, ages 13 and 17, and both are home for the rest of the school year while our state is on lockdown until June 10. Both kids miss their friends and teachers, but the seventeen-year old has been dealt a particularly tough blow with the quarantine, missing out on the very best part of his senior year.
Cooking with teens, especially in these uncertain times can be a way to get kids out of their rooms, set the stage for conversation and make sure they are doing okay. It also may fill the gap in some of the education they could be missing out on with schools closing ahead of schedule. Cooking may not be “academic” but it certainly can be a great life skill that will be important to know when teens leave your nest. My 17 year-old told me that he wants to learn a few dishes that he can make really well so that he can cook for himself and his friends when he goes away to college this fall. He’s hoping to get an occasional free meal in exchange for his cooking skills!
Here are a few tips to help get your kids in the kitchen
- Keep it Simple: Especially during this pandemic there can be a lot of different stressors that are taxing us and our teens. When we engage teens in cooking with us, we don’t want to add to our pile of stress. Come up with simple meals or recipes that kids can accomplish easily and can help with your weekly cooking requirements. In the facebook live below my 17 year-old and I made a simple lunch of “Power Grilled Cheese.”
- Make Foods That Kids Like: When you invite teens to cook for you, ask them what they would like to prepare. If you let them help set the menu or pick a dish they want to help you make, they will be more enthusiastic if it is something they like. This may be true for teens who are more hesitant eaters. Cooking may be a way to get them to try new things, but at first establish an enthusiasm for cooking by making a few favorites.
- Involve Teens in a Variety of Cooking Tasks: Your teens don’t have to make a meal from start to finish to have a meaningful cooking experience. Get them into the kitchen and ask them if they can help you by doing something simple chopping, sorting, peeling or sauteing. These small tasks done over time can build into a skill set and making them more comfortable with being in the kitchen.
- Pass on a Food Tradition: Use the quarantine time to help pass on a favorite recipe or set of recipes. Pass your secrets to making the recipe extra special as you cook with them. If you have the time and motivation, compile a cookbook for a teen with some of your family favorites so they can take them to college and cook when they are not with you.
- Build Self Confidence: Being able to cook a meal can be a real confidence builder for teens. Reinforce their accomplishments by telling them how grateful you are for their help or how much you like the taste of the foods they make. For a real boost of self confidence, have teens make a meal from start to finish with ingredients you have on hand, using the Meal-O-Matic app or ebsite tool on doctoryum.org. This tool lets them be creative, use ingredients they like and feel a sense of accomplishment by cooking themselves. It can be particularly useful in college when they may have access to kitchen appliances and can cook meals instead of going to the dining hall.
Here’s a Facebook Live I did recently with my Quaran-teen who really likes to cook. This week he is making meals for us so that he can practice up on his skills.