Teaching My Boys to Cook (Eat Well, Spend Less)

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Teaching my boys to cook is a great way for us to eat well and spend less, while they live under my roof as well as after they fly the nest.

Ever since my firstborn could stand up on a kitchen chair, we’ve encouraged our kids to help in the kitchen.

(That’s he and I almost ten years ago. We were remodeling our kitchen, but that didn’t stop us from cooking up a storm together.)

Now that the older ones are older, I’ve realized that I haven’t done the best job in making them independent in the kitchen. In fact, the older kids have been usurped by the littler ones who want to help. We haven’t moved too far past someone standing on the kitchen chair helping mom.

Only the names have changed.

When Shaina told me last month that her five year old could bake cupcakes unassisted, I realized the error of my ways. In the name of a clean kitchen and conserving resources (ie ingredients flung about the kitchen), I’ve kept my children in the dark, or at least not allowed them to fend for themselves.

This month, as part of my Pantry Challenge and my food goals for the year, I set about to change that.

I just can’t do it all. Therefore, teaching my kids to cook will help us to eat well and spend less while they live in our home. I won’t be the sole cook and bottle washer or as tempted to run for take-out on a night when I’m just too tired. I can call in the reserves!

And teaching my boys to cook will help them to eat well and spend less once they leave our home as young men. They’ll be able to fend for themselves, be independent of restaurant fare, and possibly woo the girl, too.

While my younger three are 7, 5, and 3, and still quite suited to being assistants, my older three are definitely cooking school candidates. At 9, 11, and 14, they love to eat and are perfectly able to make part or all a meal.

If they know how.

So, that’s the mission I’m on. It hasn’t happened in three weeks’ time. No, I think this will be a year-long goal, but I’m hoping that by this time next year, I’ll have some full-fledged sous chefs on my hands.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

1. Create a recipe book that is easy for them to access.

I enlisted FishBoy11 to help with this project: a family recipe book that everyone could access. My recipes are all over the place. How could they know that some are only online while others are on ratty recipe cards in my grandmother’s handwriting in a binder on the second to the top shelf of the bookcase in the schoolroom?

Yes, I’m complicated.

So, at the beginning of the month, I printed out copies of the month’s meal plan as well as the recipes to go with. He created dividers as well as a book cover, and compiled them all in a binder. Cool.

2. Enlist a child’s help with kitchen prep whenever possible.

A lot of my cooking this month has been hodge podge lately due to the Pantry Challenge. But, one thing that has been constant has been prep work as concerns all the fresh produce we get each week in a subscription box. Everyone is pretty eager to see what each week holds as well as to taste what’s included.

Kitchen prep lessons have involved juicing lemons, making lemonade, washing spinach, peeling sundry root vegetables, and otherwise exploring this world of strange and new fruits and vegetables. What WILL we do with those rutabagas and lemon grass, anyway?

As a result, the kids are learning about the produce as well as the techniques used to prepare it.

3. Offer cooking tutorials often.

As I’m cooking dinner each night, I’ve been more intentional about including a child in the prep work and/or offering a tutorial/running commentary about how to make a certain dish. I’ve given the rice pilaf lecture at least twice in the last three weeks.

I figure that repetition and visuals are helpful to learning and if I’m right there while someone’s stirring the pot, they will become more comfortable in the kitchen.

 What’s next?

As the month draws to a close, I’ll be enlisting their input on the meal plan for February as well as their help in a round of freezer cooking. Yes, this should be interesting….

But, I think that teaching my boys to cook and making them independent in the kitchen is a worthy goal for the year and a great way to eat well and spend less!

This post is part of an ongoing series about how to eat well and spend less. Along with some fabulous foodies, organizers, and frugalistas, I’ve been bringing you suggestions on how to eat like a king without becoming a pauper to do it. This month we’re discussing our food goals for the year.

From wasting less in the kitchen to saving money on healthy foods to eating better for baby, we’ve gotcha covered on all manner of tasty resolutions.

Be sure to check out what the other ladies are sharing this week or browse their archives:

Have you made any Food Resolutions this year?

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  1. great reminders! I’ve been thinking the same things lately – wanting my 9 and 10 year olds to be more independent in the kitchen. And to have the younger ones “help” even more. thanks for the reminder 🙂

  2. You’re not complicated, you’re normal – in my book anyway! You should see my recipe collection. I’ve been trying to sort it for nearly a year but it’s hard to find time. I love what you are doing and really like the idea of creating a binder full of “kid-can-do” recipes.

  3. I have the same problem with recipes. It occurred to me recently that if the unthinkable should happen to me my family wouldn’t know where to find anything. I’ve been considering starting a blog just for my family so that they could find all of my recipes and ideas in one place.

    As for the kitchen education, I’m trying to teach my crew, but have realized that I need to rearrange my supplies and tools to make it more user friendly for the kids. This is my Feb homemaking goal. Thanks for always being the encouraging sort. Yours is the first blog I choose each day.

  4. I love the idea of teaching my kids to cook – much of my experience is like yours – youngers love it – and help – but then it gets old LOL.

    I have a 13yo who rarely has homework [don’t ask – I’ve had that fight – she does it in class in full view of the teachers who KNOW she gets 100s on everything and don’t blame her boredom while they review something she obviously knows – I don’t like it but I am just waiting for next year when I know it will be more challenging LOL].
    She also ALWAYS wants more time with Mom – so why am I not drafting her? In addition she’s recently gone vegetarian – so I think our meatless meal [or fish – she doesn’t seem to think they’re cute enough to forego] are the perfect opportunity for her to cook!

    Thanks for the nudge

    1. I think the fact that she’s chosen the veg route qualifies her for KP in a biiiiiiiig way. And sounds like you have a great opportunity to spend some time together.

      On another note, you might want to pick up a copy of The Well-Trained Mind. There’s a great section on supplementing and afterschooling to keep a good learner going.

  5. This is something I’ve not done very well in. My 6 children range in ages from 1 to 15, and while they are very comfortable making snacks and cleaning the kitchen, I have not enlisted their help with cooking. Great post…and like Cherie said above, thanks for the nudge!

  6. My daughters have done a great job taking their cooking skills into the real world of college and career, but I realized my son hasn’t gotten the same exposure to cooking…even though he grew up in the same kitchen. I need to fix that! (His current cooking specialty is pizza on a tortilla, but at least he has learned to vary ingredients like sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and pineapple. I like to think this has taught him to be creative and experiment with new ingredients.) I want my son to have the same cooking life skills I’ve given my daughters…thanks for reminding me!

  7. What a great way to combine saving money and teaching your children a new skill! I just love it and will share this post as well as get my kids in the kitchen more.

  8. I’ve been thinking that same thing, Jessica. It’s so easy to just do the cooking myself, but by doing so, I’m not doing any of us any favors. Thanks for reminding me! I miss you!

  9. Love your goal to teach your boys to be self-sufficient (and thrifty) in the kitchen. One of the first things my Mom taught me to cook was an omellete. Pretty easy, some room for creativity, takes some dexterity, and always has a backup plan – i.e., scrambled eggs. We’ve done the same with our 5 kids.

    Great blog! -Bill

  10. Yes, the children of the world need to learn to cook. I wish I had learned more recipes by heart as a child. Now my brain just seems to be too full.

    What are good independent (not from a box) recipes for kids to start on? I learned to do scrambled eggs around age 10, which was a great one.

    1. I don’t know that it’s learning a recipe by heart as much as it is learning a method and being able to “eyeball” it. Honestly, that’s my preferred mode of cooking.

    2. The first thing I learned to cook was Sloppy Joe’s– ground beef, onions, a little water, a little mustard, a splash of vinegar, a bit of brown sugar and lots of ketchup.

      Brown the ground beef and onions, (as an adult I usually add mushrooms and green peppers too– but my Mom didn’t like either!) drain the fat, add the rest until it tastes good and looks right but a little watery. Let simmer while the tater tots or fries are in the oven and the salad is getting made….

  11. My kids love to help me bake, but I was thinking the same thing as you. They need a little more time in the kitchen. I’m planning on giving them one meal a week to make for dinner. Thanks for some great ideas!

  12. I am trying to work on this as well!! I have a 4 and 6 year old that LOVE to help in the kitchen but I rairly let them. Thanks to my daugters Girl Scout leader we found tastofhome.com/kids a great website with kid friendly printables with recipies (very easy and good for the youngers)

  13. My oldest is a terrific helper — chief potato peeler and onion chopper! 🙂 My other son is just starting to show interest, and it’s great to see him make his own lunch! 🙂

    BTW, we LOVE rutabagas. I cut them up and boil them — like potatoes. Then I have a helper mash them with a potato masher, adding a little butter and salt. Fab – u -lous!

    1. I will keep that in mind. I’m grilling chicken tonight, so we will have to just mash the turnips and rutabagas that we have left — before we get more tomorrow. LOL

  14. I have taught my kids to help cook and work on being independent in the kitchen since they were tiny, mostly because I love to cook myself. Now that I work part time, they are lifesavers for me with having dinner ready on the nights I am later. I’ve been blogging about some of their recent exploits — come on over and check it out. One of the recipes is even one of yours!

  15. I have three boys and one girl and we, too, have barely moved beyond the kitchen chair helper post. But last month I taught my 11 year old son how to “make” Annie’s Mac & Cheese. The first time he took the initiative felt like we’d entered a new realm – the sun shone, angels sang, hope sprang eternal. Boxed mac & cheese, I know. Baby steps.

  16. Being a 4-H agent, my son learned to cook at an early age when he came with me to many classes. As a Boy Scout, he perfected his outdoor cooking skills. As a teenager, he learned to prepare quick and easy snacks (since he was so hungry all the time!). Now that he has gone to college and is living on his own for the first time, he has decided he really needs to KNOW how to cook – it seems all those lessons along the way didn’t sink in until he became dependent on himself. So over Christmas break, he became my right hand man and learned to cook some of his favorite meals. I only wish I had started him early on this path and been more persistent in making sure he really could cook the dishes all by himself. I applaud all of you who are starting to do this – it is much better to take baby steps than to try to teach it all in a couple of (stress filled) weeks!! Good luck!

  17. Love to hear what you’re doing with your little ones.

    Thanks to some Divine inspiration when my oldest was 18mo., I’ve been making cookbooks with them since *they* could stand on the chair. I got a binder for each of them, and then every time they participated in preparing a recipe, I would make a journal entry, followed by the recipe.

    In the years that followed, they began to make their own journal entries and copy their own recipes (from my sources) and even make up some new ones!

    With each milestone of success, I’ve taken a photo and pasted on the back of a page. M1’s first banana bread by herself, M2’s mushroom risotto… They have a documentation of their journeys, and useful cookbooks when they grow up and start their own homes.

    Can’t take credit for the idea, but would feel criminal not sharing the joy of a similar experience with others.

  18. Thanks for this post. I have to admit that due to my obsessive tendencies, I tend to do all the cooking myself. I think it is high time, I started to include nine year old Lilly in more of the kitchen adventures. She loves to cook and is interested. I have to be willing to let her help and learn.

  19. I created a “family” cookbook for my two daughters after they moved out on their own and gave it to them for Christmas a couple of years ago. I have added a few recipes over the years that they have requested. It is a great way to make sure they have the recipes that they enjoyed as children. I also do a monthly menu as a way to control the expenses for my husband and I – if you would like to check it out please feel free to visit my blog –
    Would love to hear from you!

  20. I love this plan!
    My two girls are 4 and 6. I try to enlist their help as much as possible (usually for weekend dinner or weekday treats… I find that having them help with dinner slows down the whole process and becomes counter-productive in a number of different ways). I’m impressed with your “letting go” if you will.

  21. I have been teaching all of my four boys to cook, and it is so nice! If they are hungry they can make something!
    I noticed in your picture you have tile countertops with white grout. How do you keep your grout so clean?

    1. They really aren’t that white. It’s my understanding that grout is supposed to be sealed a few weeks after it’s laid. However, many builders have moved on and leave it to the homeowner to take care of. And if I remember right, it’s supposed to be redone every so often.

      None of the tile in our house has been sealed. 🙁 Which means it gets dirty fast. Every once in awhile I spray the counters with bleach and water and let it sit overnight. That usually brings the grout back to white.

  22. I might be in the minority, but thought I would pose this question just in case–I’d like to see tips on how to teach husbands to cook. Not being sarcastic at all, our season of life has brought me working full time and school full time and he is working but no extras, so he’s mostly in charge of kitchen duties, but he could use some help, so I’d love to see a series or tips on that (or tie it in to teaching your sons perhaps?) just a thought!

    1. Well, that’s an interesting question. And I get you on the being serious part. My husband cooked when we were dating, but I kinda took over the job once we got married. Probably wasn’t the best idea.

      Since then, though he has asked me on occasion to show him how to make certain dishes he didn’t already know how to do. And recently, he developed a new way with tamales that really sped up the process.

      I think if a husband is genuinely interested, there’s no reason not to make it a fun weekly activity. How would you teach a fellow mom to cook? I think you would use similar strategies. A few weeks ago, I just left the recipe and explained what needed to be done to make hamburger buns. They were great. I think guys are capable of a lot more in the kitchen than we usually give them credit for.

  23. I’ve been working on this with my husband. He had no cooking experience when we first married. I do most of the cooking but I’ve taught him how to do some easy things on his own. I’ve focused on super easy crockpot meals in case something ever happened to me, I know he could fend for himself. Cooking together can be a fun date night activity as well.

  24. I LOVE having my kids in the kitchen with me. Since they were little, each of them have had a designated “kitchen helper day.” They are not only responsible for cooking but ALL the kitchen chores that day belong to that child too. I have really enjoyed the time lately with my older three boys who are 16, 14, 12 because they open up and talk so much when we are working side by side in the kitchen, and it is exciting to see them have a servants heart while getting everything together for our family to share our meals together. Every few months I will let each child help me decide on a particular meal they would like to know how to make and we make it twice a month until they can do it by themselves, helping them become more independent and allowing me a little less time in the kitchen.

  25. Jessica – thanks for the binder idea! I actually have my currently used recipes organized into one binder, but than I have 2 additional binders filled with recipes I’ve printed off and plan to make “someday”. When I want a new recipe to try I pull it out of the binder – but I end up leaving the recipe lying around or with the grocery shopping list, that gets buried on my desk or the counter – it’s a mess! I’m going to grab a new binder – put the recipes I plan on making in it, along with the grocery list notebook and labeling it “Monthly meals and recipes!” This way I can try to remember to incorporate my own 8.9 yr old into assisting me in the kitchen and learning how to cook on her own! I’ve usually had the rule that the littles can only assist at times when it’s not pressing that I get the food on immediately (baking – never dinner time!) the almost 9 yr old though is plenty old enough to be given tasks and learn how to do things along with being an assistant in the kitchen! Thanks for the reminder 🙂 We may be having pancakes for dinner tonight, but that’s a perfect meal for her to get started on with me!

    1. I’m playing with the idea of getting 1-31 dividers and putting the recipe(s) for each day that way. Not sure if it will work, though.

      1. I bet you could do 4 dividers – one for each week! Then put the recipes in order for each week (without dividing them all up). Also, as you use a recipe you could move it out of the binder (or maybe to the back of the book, in a 5th divided section as in “used”) that way if you are gone from the house and need the kids to start dinner – they could pull out the binder, flip to the correct week and the correct day and start from there!

  26. Love your article! Thanks so much for the inspiration. I have recently started making an effort to have my children in the kitchen with me more, but I do need to go even further and teach them increasingly more independence which I know they will love. =)

    I have just recently started compiling all the recipes I use into an application called Pepperplate. It’s basically a free menu planning app, but when I began entering the recipes I started to think it would be a fantastic idea to have them all in one place anyway, especially because half the time I can’t remember which awesome blog I found them on either! 😉 It also has the facility to import recipes from some websites and otherwise, you are able to attach a link etc. to the recipe to show exactly where it came from. I have the app on my ipad, but it is also able to sync with your phone and I think computer as well as your account on Pepperplates online data base if you want it to, which means you could access your recipes (and possibly menu plan) from anywhere! You can also share the recipes you have in your list with friends easily. =)

  27. Thanks for the encouragement. BTW-you still look exactly the same as in this pic!
    Cooking w/ kids must be a great beauty secet 🙂

    1. There’s a reason why we’ve been friends for so long. You know all the right things to say! I was thinking how very wrinkled I am now in comparison to then. My skin was much better then.

  28. This is great–the effort now will totally pay off in the future when you have teenagers that can fend for themselves in the kitchen!

  29. I am the mother of a 30 and 26 year old who both love to cook – much more than their mother! And they are way, way better at it. A while back, they both attributed this, at least in part, to “free for all Fridays”. Basically, from the time they were very young, (3 & 7), I turned the kitchen over to them to get their own supper — no supervision of their choices or their mess. Saturday morning was always the deep clean for the kitchen back then anyway, so the mess was well timed. Questions were answered, but no hands on for mom or dad. The stove came later, but the microwave was open. Their choices were sometimes priceless – frozen green pea sundaes is one I haven’t forgotten, and often the older one’s pasta sauces were cleaned off the ceiling! But, imagination ruled and they truly thought they were creating masterpieces. Now, they actually do!

  30. Great article , i realized months ago that i needed to work on teaching our 13 year old son how to handle a load of laundry and making a snack or simple meal for himself to prepare for when he is at college (which time flys faster than i would like ) i started cooking at my mom and grandparents knee when i was 8 the oldest of 4 children because i loved it and it came easy to me . I took for granted my son would “just know” but realized when he needed help with toaster ovens and turning the dryer on that i needed to start working on “lessons” . I am over protective but i learned to slice a tomato with out cutting my finger off
    At some point. Thanks for the article that i am not alone

    1. Isn’t that the truth? I figured it out on my own. I guess my mom let me have more reign than I do them?

  31. I sooooooo love your idea of a “fishbook” cookbook. It has got my brain thinking this week. I just as my hubby what he would cook if I were no longer here. He laughed! Just the thought of my 6 children not being able to enjoy some of their favorite foods anymore made me so sad, for real! This is a project I am going to work on with my 3 older boys for sure. I have 5 boys and one daughter and they all need to cook in the kitchen! Thank you for inspireing me!

  32. On the idea of a recipe binder I have 2 big 3 ring binders, one with our tried and true favourites, and the other with “try it someday” recipes.

    I have several copies of our regular recipes and I have put them into 4 separate sleeve binders with 4 weeks worth of menu plans. I do up 4 weeks of menu plans every change of season. In behind the menu plan I put all the recipes for that week. They aren’t removed, just used after referencing the menu plan on the first page.

    I found it great to take the binder for the week to the shop too with my shopping list because then I could easily double check a recipe to see if a substitution could work when an ingredient wasn’t available or out of budget range.

    My 13 learned to cook when he was 9 or 10 but I had another baby along the way and forgot to keep up his lessons or teach any of his younger brothers. I think I could do with getting my boys in the kitchen more too.

    Best wishes
    Jen in Oz
    Mama to 4 boys, 13.5 to almost 4.