Youthentity column: How to get your kids cooking this holiday season |

Youthentity column: How to get your kids cooking this holiday season

Kirsten McDaniel

As many of us experienced this Thanksgiving, the holidays look different this year as many of us shrunk our gatherings in an attempt to keep each other safe. But as these times require, it’s helpful to look at the positives of a scaled-down holiday meal: faster cleanup, fewer dishes, shorter grocery lists and surely less stress overall.

This may also be an opportunity for mindful presence with your immediate family, a chance to slow down and spend time with one another — time that may be spent passing down traditions such as grandma’s pie recipe or your cousin’s famous candied yams.

With this (hopefully once-in-a-lifetime) pandemic event, why not take the opportunity to involve kids and introduce them to the empowering skill of cooking? At Youthentity, one of our Career Academy classes teaches young people the business and art of cooking and baking. Not only is it a fantastic industry in which to begin one’s career, cooking is also an empowering life skill.

One of the many positives of getting kids into the kitchen — one which I’ll wager you’ve already thought of — is having an extra pair of hands. And really, who couldn’t use a sous chef? You may ask, how do I know if my child is ready to contribute in the kitchen? And what are the best ways to get them involved in preparing a meal?

Chef Matt Maier, Youthentity Culinary Arts chef instructor, explains the myriad ways to introduce kids to cooking:

On “age-appropriate” tasks

There is no age at which it becomes appropriate to learn in the kitchen, for it always is. As described below, there are many ways to involve kids in cooking. It’s an activity that is hands-on, interactive and full of skills-building and learning opportunities.

Preparing a meal

Take your young ones shopping. Have them pick out produce and help them learn different herbs and spices.

Have them assist with measuring ingredients. (Also a great way to incorporate basic math.)

Ask your young sous chefs to hand you items and to put things away. They’ll learn about different uses for kitchen tools, and hopefully instill an appreciation of a neat, orderly workspace.

Have them set the table, placing them in charge of laying out silverware, napkins, salt and pepper, and adding décor.

Cooking and baking

Explore recipe books and plan dishes for your holiday meal. Then, have them pull out the ingredients and necessary kitchen tools.

The holidays are full of opportunities to teach and learn classic techniques: making stock, roux, pinçage (roasted vegetables with tomato) and combining items to make velouté/espagñole.

Very young ones can be in charge of pressing buttons on the food processor or being in charge of the timer.

How to make it exciting

Give your kids the best job in the kitchen and appoint them as official taste testers.

Pastry (pies, tarts, etc.) may be a little too precise for truly little ones, but with some extra dough, a rolling pin and a small tin, a young chef can use their creativity to make their very own mini dessert (not to mention, will keep them occupied for a bit).

There are countless ways to explore the diverse world of food and cooking techniques with your children. Cooking requires creativity and critical thinking, teaches organization and mindfulness, and is a fun and interactive family activity. As well, you may just learn a few tricks yourself along the way.

Kirsten McDaniel is Youthentity executive director.

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