At the end of every school year, I am awed by how much my children have learned, the extent to which they have matured and the inches they have grown. The beginning of summer is a milestone worthy of pause.
On the flip side, I also mull over the things I had intended to personally teach my kids during the past year, goals that generally remain little more than a hope or dream.
Teaching them to cook is still on my bucket list. I also mean to teach them money management, meditation, how to resist technology (the toughest challenge of all!) and, once they can drive, how to change a tire. These are pretty basic ambitions, but honestly, I haven’t fully accomplished any of them.
Tackling these tasks seems impossible during the school year, when the kids have long days, piles of homework and weekend sports and therefore not a wink of free time. But a happy byproduct of summer is that we might have the time to knock one goal off my list.
So I hereby vow to conclusively teach my kids to cook. Here is my 11-step plan:
1. Start with the shopping. Successful cooking begins at the store. Teens should learn how to stock a pantry, plan meals for the week ahead, make a comprehensive and organized grocery list and stick to a monthly budget. I constantly encourage my kids to eat whole foods, but that doesn’t mean they have to shop at Whole Foods — their budget, when they’re on their own for the first time, will surely be small.
2. Master knife skills. The hack job my boys do on an onion won’t get them far when making a real meal. They must learn to properly chop that onion, peel and mince garlic, and cut fresh herbs. They should also learn how to sharpen a knife and that knives should not go into the dishwasher.
3. Clarify cooking terms and measurements. If teens are acquainted with ounces, pinches, blanching and basting, they increase their odds of roasting that chicken and sauteing that spinach instead of ordering that pizza.
4. Teach them all about eggs. Eggs can be breakfast, lunch or dinner. They are high-quality sources of protein and inexpensive compared with meats, fish and poultry. Kids should learn how to fry, scramble and hard-boil eggs, and even to make an omelet — each of which can be completed in one pan over one burner.
5. Make salad dressing. Cheaper and so much healthier than store-bought: 1 tablespoon mustard whisked with 3 tablespoons vinegar of choice, emulsified with 1/3 cup olive oil and flavored with a pinch of salt and pepper. Remind teens that when tossing a salad, they should start light, as too much dressing will drown lettuce and you can’t take it back.
6. Roast vegetables. This might be the easiest lesson of the lot. Heat the oven to 400 or 450 degrees, spread whole or chopped vegetables onto a sheet pan, toss with olive or coconut oil, season with salt and pepper and roast until lightly caramelized.
7. Stir-fry everything. This is a versatile method of cooking that requires just one pan and one burner. Chop vegetables and meats into bite-size pieces. Put 1 tablespoon of sesame or grape seed oil in a wok or skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Stir-fry meats first, tossing regularly. Remove from pan when done and cook vegetables next, then garlic, ginger or other aromatics. Return the meats and vegetables to the pan, and add sauce or garnishes such as nuts or seeds. Toss to combine and serve. Once they master this simple technique, the combinations are endless.
9. Start a soup. Soups are so easy to make and require just one pot, one burner and cheap ingredients such as an onion, carrots and celery. Kids who know how to start a soup can add whatever’s in the fridge and feed themselves for a week. Simply melt butter or oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, saute chopped onion, garlic, carrots and celery until soft, add water or broth, then add grains, beans, vegetables and a cooked meat of choice. Simmer, and you’re done.
10. Create a cheat sheet for cooking grains. Teens should know about the grain-per- water ratio and that adding a little salt to the water imparts flavor, stirring grains while boiling can make them mushy and rinsing grains before cooking can reduce bitterness.
11. Don’t forget the cleanup. Educate kids about salmonella and safe kitchen practices such as washing hands, separating cutting boards and utensils that come in contact with raw meat and eggs, safely storing food and, for a successful future marriage or roommate relationship, washing dishes.