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Teaching kids to cook

Fighting Teenage Obesity With a Knife and a Pan

Here is a picture of my son taken a few years ago, teaching his sister how to make grilled cheese.

fighting teenage obesity

 The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery, Mark Van Doran

“Cooking is, Without a Doubt, One of the Most Important Skills A Person Can Ever Learn”

fighting teenage obesity

And people are listening. But are we applying what we know? If parents do not know basic cooking skills or do not take the time to cook are we allowing (yet) another generation of young adults to leave home without the knowledge on how to practice this survival skill?
I think so.
And I argue that when teenagers and young adults do not know how to cook, they also do not know how to practice the art of eating, tasting, savoring and feeling satiated.
And this leads to over consumption of those less healthy foods: foods like take out, processed and convenient foods.
And more overweight and obese teens and young adults.

Fighting Teenage Obesity: Rates Have Skyrocketed in the last 30 Years

In the United States rates of teenage obesity have quadrupled in the past 30 years. In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. This trend reflects a worldwide epidemic and shows no signs of slowing down. (Note that this rise in obesity rates coordinates with the food industry’s ‘domination’ with processed and convenient foods in the last thirty years).
I advocate and propose, like other health and culinary professionals, a solution to fight teenage obesity by supporting the back to basics way of living and teach children and teens how to cook. If we as parents cannot teach our kids this skill, we need to find someone who can.
The following story about my friend (who is now a parent) seems funny, but it was eye-opening for me at the time.

A Friend Once Confessed She Never Cooked Anything That Didn’t Have Microwave Directions

I had this BFF in high school who got married young. I remember visiting her a few years after she was married, she was 25 years old. I was invited to her home for dinner. She told me that she couldn’t cook (that is okay with me, I just wanted to see her, you know?) and her husband didn’t cook either. Would I help her cook dinner? Of course. She took out the food she was planning to make. A box that said, “Chicken Helper (or something like this) and a pack of fresh chicken.  “So let’s go”, she said. She read the microwave instructions on the box to me. I pointed out that there were instructions on how to cook the chicken on the stove, written next to those microwave instructions.

My friend confessed that if the food didn’t have microwave instructions on the label, she didn’t buy it, she didn’t cook it. She couldn’t cook food in any other way besides in the microwave.

And I know she is not the only one.

The Lost Generation: The Cooking Illiterate

As early as 1992, the New York Times called the Cooking Illiterate the new ‘Lost Generation.’

In the last decade, cooking has evolved into an optional activity, like skiing or playing chess. Many young adults never learned how to cook, or they simply don’t bother, because there are so many other choices, like fast food, takeout or frozen dishes that can be microwaved…When the National Pork Producers Council in Des Moines gave a cooking test last year to a nationally representative sample of 735 adults, nearly three-quarters of them flunked, missing 30 percent or more of the 20 questions.

This phenomenon isn’t just isolated to America alone. In Britain, one in six women cannot cook a basic meal and this trend looks to expand in other European countries.

What can we do to get kids and teens cooking again? Do kids want to learn how to cook? I say yes!

Cooking develops a sense of self-confidence in children and teens

fighting teenage obesity

 “When children watch parents cook, they absorb technique by osmosis and gain confidence.” (from NYT)
fighting teenage obesity

My kids made the simple aperitif for our Easter dinner

What motivates teenagers to choose foods to eat?

Teens want to eat foods that touch their senses. Especially their sense of taste. Cooking teaches teens about taste, odor, emotion. Cooking gives adolescents a sense of responsibility and confidence.

fighting teenage obesity

So why aren’t we encouraging more teens cook? Teens who don’t know how to cook think cooking takes too long and is too complicated. (I disagree).

Teens want foods that satisfy their sense of taste but are also convenient and fast to eat. Thanks to the food industry who provides these convenient and ready to eat foods,

“We are raising the first cooking-illiterate generation,” she said. “They neither smell nor taste nor stir nor touch the food.” (NYT)

Teenagers’ lack of watching food being cooked at home combined with their very limited cooking skills has to be linked with our current epidemic in teenage overweight and obesity rates.

If we cannot teach this basic and important life skill at home, what can we do?

Fighting Teenage Obesity By Teaching Teens to Cook

#1 Bring Back Home Economics as a Mandatory Class

fighting teenage obesity

Why don’t we have more mandatory Home Ec classes offered to middle and high school students? Leading authors in the field of nutrition note a link between Home Ec’s teaching cooking skills and nutrition,

Many of the advocates for a home ec revival are focused on this question of how and what we eat. Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts, was the lead author on a 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association commentary titled “Bring Back Home Economics,” which argued for home ec’s role in combating obesity; she imagines a “comprehensive curriculum” covering “basic cooking techniques; caloric requirements; sources of food, from farm to table; budget principles; food safety; nutrient information, where to find it and how to use it; and effects of food on well-being and risk for chronic disease.

Unfortunately, Home Ec (Family and Consumer Sciences) classes are no longer mandatory or are part of the school’s curriculum,

Though all states still offer Family and Consumer Sciences, or FCS, in some form and in some schools, the numbers are grim. As of a 2006 survey, only three states still required any kind of FCS class in junior high or high school. Home ec once lasted a whole year; today, classes are often just nine weeks long. (Both quotes from “Bring Back Home Ec!”)

How can we bring these classes back? What are your ideas?

#2 Look To The Older Generation

In France kids and teens are exposed to tasting classes, during the annual tasting week. There are no formal Home Ec classes unless a high school student goes to a professional high school to learn culinary education.
What I see in the French culture is more emphasis on taste education and teaching cooking with children at home, or done thru a link between the older generation (usually grandparents) and children. When teens learn from the older generation I see it as a perfect combination of experience and patience.

#3 A Community Cooking Class

Food advocates like Jamie Oliver offer online cooking classes, read about it here, but with some personal research where you live, you may find that your community is offering cooking class geared to teenagers (or older children).

#4 Jump Into the Kitchen Together

Nothing is more fun and rewarding (to me) than getting together with my crazy kids to cook together. We make it a habit, (although not with all four kids at once) and now my son and two youngest can make their own basic meals when I don’t feel like cooking (sigh, thank you!)

Don’t be scared-jump in the kitchen with your kids and get started cooking foods you have planned on making together.

My Call of Action: Teens Need To Know Basic Cooking Skills Before They Leave Home

Teens are busy young adults but there are always ways to promote their cooking skills. After the sense of taste, teens judged ‘available foods at home’ as the second most important reason they choose what to eat.

By forcing this cooking issue with our independent and busy teenagers, and promoting responsibility and confidence in their labors, we are educating our young adults to survive and thrive when they leave the nest.

My call to action is to inspire you to put a high priority on your children and teens knowing basic cooking methods. Not only will the fruit of your work pay off, but you might be invited to their home for dinner and you won’t be served food cooked only in the microwave!

Plus, the more your teens know about cooking, the more they know about taste, odors and satiation.

Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” John W. Gardner

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2 Responses to Fighting Teenage Obesity With a Knife and a Pan

  1. Lety April 9, 2015 at 16:43 #

    Completely agree!
    Nutrition is not only “eating”, but also “tasting” and “testing” food.
    My second child is particularly gifted at “cooking”. He loves watching making fresh past, cleaning vegetables, kneading dough, but above all, he loves participating in all these activities.

    And, for sure, who loves tasting and testing food , cooking and preparing dinners, lunches and breakfastes, will be more probably a gourmet, rather than a gourmand!


    • mbrighton April 11, 2015 at 18:45 #

      Le* Che Bello!! 5 years old and into cooking already? How wonderful…You are a super mamma….Grazie for your always great input 🙂

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