Nurturing Your Young Chef

Kids are never too young to start helping with food preparation. Image: Public Domain
Kids are never too young to start helping with food preparation. Photo: Public Domain

Most of us here are makers or crafters of one sort or another, whether it’s cosplay, woodworking, knitting, sewing, or something else. But another way of exercising your crafting muscles is through cooking. It’s a convenient hobby, since we have to eat anyway, it’s easy to share with others, and you’re not left with something that sits around the house, taking up room. So when my 12-year-old son started expressing a healthy interest in creation through food, I was pleased. He’s gotten to the point where he is the first to jump up to help when it’s time to cook something. And he needs zero help when it comes to a conventional batch of Toll House Cookies. Much to our waistlines’ chagrin.

At first, he was mostly just interested in making desserts. Cookies were his go-to thing. But over this past summer, we formalized it a bit more, tackling a new food each week. I allowed him to pick anything he wanted with the caveat that half of the recipes had to be non-desserts. Of course, homemade macaroni and cheese was the first non-dessert he chose, but over the course of the summer he also learned how to make soft pretzels, fettuccine Alfredo (okay, it’s sort of like macaroni and cheese, but the method is entirely different), pizza, applesauce muffins, and biscuits. He also made chocolate chip bar cookies, blondies, bread pudding, chocolate pudding from scratch, molten lava cakes, and chocolate eclairs. I was there with him every step of the way, but for most, I made him do the heavy lifting (the exception being the eclairs, which I’d also never made, so it was tricky to direct him—we shared the work instead). I put all of the recipes we made in a book for him, so he has his own copies of what he already knows how to make. And we keep adding to it.

Our baked choux pastry for the eclairs. Photo: Jenny Bristol
Our baked choux pastry for the eclairs. Photo: Jenny Bristol

But, he’s 12. Too young to sign up for any community college classes or other specialized instruction, but old enough to be capable of pretty much anything I throw at him. So where would we go next? We’ve both been devouring The Great British Bake Off. I added “chefing” to his homeschool schedule, and he and I continue to learn more about it together. I’m a decent cook, but don’t love anything but baking, though I can follow a recipe with the best of ’em. But my appreciation for it all increases with his enthusiasm. Our high altitude and dry climate present interesting challenges to some recipes, though, so we’ll both continue to learn as we go.

Other than just making a variety of foods and involving him along the way, I’ve scoured the internet for free cooking classes such as Skillshare’s “The Art of Baking” and my local library for resources such as The Great Courses class “The Everyday Gourmet: Baking Pastries and Desserts” and the book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which I’m hoping will teach us the art of several different kinds of bread loaves. That book is like a class in and of itself. It will likely be on my “to purchase” list soon.

Attention to detail is a big part of cooking and baking. Photo: Public Domain
Attention to detail is a big part of cooking and baking. Photo: Public Domain

He and I will also be sitting down with my cookbooks, trying to round out his skills (and mine) with many other types of foods. My son has always been a very picky eater, so this is a perfect opportunity for us to discover more foods that he likes to eat. Perhaps working some pureed vegetables into sauces will add to his basic nutrition, but now that he knows how to cook, it’s harder to hide that kind of thing!

Sure, I’m getting images in my head of my son graduating from Le Cordon Bleu and opening his own bakery/patisserie. But I’m keeping that to myself. At best, he’ll be learning skills now that will help his eventual career. At worst, he’ll be very good at cooking for himself. Sounds like a win in my book, no matter how you slice it.

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