Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cooking School

The very first thing I remember making entirely by myself was a cake (from scratch) with blueberry icing. It was my Mom's birthday. She and my Dad had gone out for dinner. I set my Little Bro and Baby Sister to decorating the house with toilet paper streamers. And I baked the cake. The cake itself was a bit of a mess. I didn't let it cook completely (I've always had a bit of an issue with instant gratification) and I used frozen blueberries. Now. I know what you are thinking. Blueberry frosting? It sounded pretty to me. Unfortunately, the result was more of a watery, sugary blueberry mass that floating across the raw center of the cake.

My parents, however, were gracious. They ate every bit of that soggy cake. I know I've told this story before. But even though my efforts at 11 or 12 weren't the most successful, I am grateful for every minute my Mom let me spend in the kitchen...stirring, cracking, mixing...I can even appreciate clean up duty!

Maybe that's why I feel so strongly about teaching my son to cook. I feel pretty strongly about equipping him with Life Skills...one of those being cooking. And as he is my only child he gets to be my kitchen helper quite a bit.

Besides our weekly and daily cooking escapades in the kitchen, I want to tell you about something super exciting that we do. We Host a Cooking School for kids. 

Our Cooking School participants are generally our cousins. Where would you get yours from?

Haul the neighbor kids in. Invite the cousins over. Or if you have a large family, make it point to set out a time once a week or once a month for a bonafide cooking class. Sure. There are plenty of  culinary skills your kids can learn just by helping you in the kitchen. But Cooking School, my friends, involves just a bit more than tearing lettuce, mixing a cake mix or spreading out pizza dough.

But first things first. 

Why teach your kids to cook? I feel like I’m preaching to the choir. Teaching kids to cook helps with math skills, science, practices following directions and builds family relationships. (Try our family recipe for Christmas Fudge).

 My favorite thing about teaching kids to cook is that it prepares them for life. They have control over their health and wellness by participating in their own food preparation. They will be able to manage their budgets more effectively because they can cook from scratch at home.

So you want to host your own cooking school? Here are a few things I have learned along the way
Where? You might have an itty bitty space. I understand. My kitchen is about the size of a dressing room at Macy’s.  So I make sure that any groups I have in my home are manageable. For big groups I use my Mom’s kitchen. She has room for large folding tables. If I am going to use my kitchen I plan a recipe that is easily prepared from my cozy kitchen table.(This 321 Cake is a perfect recipe for a small crowd)


When? Set aside enough time for Cooking school. We do Cooking School every year at our Annual Cousin Camp. A good portion of the morning is set aside. That way there is enough time for instruction and for each and every child to become a participant.

What? Think about the kinds of things you feel kids should know how to cook. When we have our cooking school at Cousin Camp I use a mixture of family heritage recipes and items that are just plain fun and/or recipes that employ a practical technique.  I also am mindful of ingredients that we might already have one hand. Just a little tip. Baking is one of the easier things to teach during Cooking School. And there is something magic about creating a whole concoction out of a few ingredients.(Here is a perfectly wonderful recipe for Biscuits!)

Getting Ready. What kinds of cooking utensils do you need? Do you have enough ingredients? The Dollar Tree is a wonderful spot for extra mixing bowls, mixing spoons and cooking mats. How about your recipe? I make an additional copy in easy to read print and instructions.  If I have a smaller group I use individual recipe cards. My larger groups get a poster I’ve made. How about dish clothes, aprons, and any kind of foil or wax paper? Be sure you are prepared.

The Lesson. The first thing we always begin with are Kitchen Rules. These important rules help  kids navigate a kitchen safely. I always have a fun poster displayed. I also to refer to the rules all through the lesson. When I begin the lesson I generally divide and conquer. I arrange the kids into teams that can work together. I also decide how I am going to separate the tasks (if at all). I also model each step. If you yourself feel uncomfortable in the kitchen this is also a good opportunity to brush up on your culinary skills. (Take a look at this collection of week's worth of Cooking School Recipes we did at Cousin Camp a few years ago.

The following is a video from last year’s Cousin Camp. We are making homemade bread. Notice that they are learning important measuring techniques. It’s hard for me to believe but I have lost nearly 70 pounds since that video was taken.  Yay me! Only one little hiccup. When I uploaded it I did something wrong. We all sounded like the Chipmunks...mumbly Chipmunks at that. So I added some music. We made bread that day!

Add your own special memories.  
This is a little cookbook I made before Cousin Camp one year. The recipe cards were added every day. I can’t find last years book. It must have been that good. Don’t go for any kind of wow factor. Since Cousin Camp is generally a big fat hairy deal the more I have done ahead of time the better. But letting kids start their own personal recipe collection is a pretty special thing.

I enjoy making aprons. We have also taken plain aprons from the craft store and decorated them. Otherwise you can borrow or find a collection of aprons from the thrift store.
Here is a link for a free apron tutorial and chef's hat. I have made several of the hats. They are really darling!

Consider a Field Trip. Are you able take a trip to a grocery store or farmer’s market? We are blessed that my parents have a large garden. One year we took a trip to the herb garden. We then picked our own special herb blend for Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs. The  kids were so proud. I did ask somebody to bring me in some Rosemary on one occasion and got lavender, but hey! That’s pretty good!

Happy Cooking!

This post is part of the the Schoolhouse Review Crew's 5 Days of Creative Teaching.


  1. Oh, so fun! Especially licking the beaters. I love the litle recipe collection holders!

  2. Fantastic ideas!! I would love it if I could have my nieces and nephews over for Cousin Camp - even if I had to teach a cooking class in the bargain (i'm not a great cook! LOL) but they all live too far away. :-( Pinning this to remind myself of some great ideas. After all, I have a few kids and they actually do have friends, so we could do some of this.

  3. Love the recipe books! And the apron idea! So creative! We're going to start adding more and more cooking to our "school" time in the upcoming years. Right now our focus is sharing the stool that they are standing on.......we're making progress though!


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