In 2016, researchers at the University of Sydney interviewed young adults about their cooking practices and thoughts around meal preparation. Many of them reported a lack of basic knowledge about food and cooking, such as not knowing which vegetables to choose for various meals, how to store them or how to cook them. Many said they had watched their parents cook but had never been taught to prepare food themselves. I believe that many children and young people lack confidence in the kitchen. It’s not surprising that they think that cooking is difficult, in an age of perfect images of beautifully presented food on social media and judged reality cooking shows that make cooking into a process of complex recipes and rules. When I speak to patients and families at the Family Centre, I notice that young people are intimidated by the idea of cooking. There are important benefits from learning to cook at a young age; recent research from the USA shows that developing cooking skills early can lead to healthier eating habits in adulthood. Published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, the results of a ten-year study showed that the participants who reported having ‘adequate cooking skills’ at the start of the study period cooked more vegetables and ate less takeout at the end of the 10 year study period; good indicators that they were leading healthier lives than the participants who reported low confidence around cooking. The ability to cook and eat well is important for everyone and absolutely vital for people with type 1 diabetes, who must navigate food choices with great care and skill. It can be hard to find time to cook in our busy lives, let alone teach the kids how to do it, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. I’ve outlined a few basic skills and tips that I feel are essential for kids and young people to prepare and enjoy a simple home-cooked meal themselves. Help them master these skills, and your child will be on a path to a healthy life! Top five cooking skills to teach kids
Chop vegetables: Discuss appropriate sizing and technique for different vegetables.
Boil, scramble and fry an egg.
Make an omelette: Discuss omelette fillings and include proteins and vegetables.
Cook pasta and rice on the stovetop and in the microwave. If you prefer to eat low-carb, teach them to make accompaniments like cauliflower rice or mash, and zucchini noodles.
Cook basic meat cuts – grill a chicken breast, stir-fry diced meat, sauté mince.
Top five hacks to teach young adults
How to make recipes that can be cooked in bulk, portioned and frozen, such as bolognaise sauce or soups.
How use leftovers to create a different dish for the next meal, and how to use what’s in the fridge or pantry to make a meal without a recipe.
How to choose ingredients with longer shelf lives, particularly fresh foods such as vegetables.
Stocking up on ingredients like frozen or canned vegetables can help them make a quick and convenient meal in a pinch.
The concept of ‘base recipes’ where there are no set ingredients, just a method to follow - like a stir-fry or a traybake. For the recipes, the prepping, cooking and seasoning is the same, and the ingredients can simply be what's in the fridge or on special.
Top five tips for building confidence
Create a folder of simple dishes of four to five ingredients that kids can make in 20 minutes.
Discuss the concept of meal planning, writing a shopping list and preparing freezable meals.
Show them how to food shop, how to choose fresh produce, the right cuts of meats for a recipe and where to find dry or frozen ingredients in the supermarket.
Cook with them! Try new recipes together.
Grow something. Nothing is more inspiring than producing your own ingredients. Plant some basics, such as cherry tomatoes and baby carrots. If you don’t have the garden space, grow herbs at your kitchen window.
As they say: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Teaching your children to cook can set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating and happy memories. Reference: Jennifer Utter et al, Self-Perceived Cooking Skills in Emerging Adulthood Predict Better Dietary Behaviors and Intake 10 Years Later: A Longitudinal Study, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (2018). More reading: Kitchen confidence: How we lost our food skills and how to get them back, Good Food Guide 2018 Image credit: Kidspot.