Many students head off to college and quickly realize they don’t know how to cook. After years of eating out and parents preparing meals, many young adults have little or no skills in the kitchen. The good news: If you have tweens or teens at home, you still have the opportunity to give them this valuable life skill. Learning to cook some basic recipes not only prepares them for moving away to work or go to college, but also builds responsibility and independence, increases self-esteem and eases the burden on parents to prepare all the meals.
Follow these guidelines as you introduce your child to cooking.
Master the Kitchen: Before embarking on cooking his first recipe, it’s important that your child knows his way around the kitchen. It seems obvious, but many children don’t know where to find the baking dishes, sauté pan, wire whisk, grater and other pieces of equipment because there’s never been a need for them to know. Help your child become more familiar with the kitchen by giving him a recipe or a list of ingredients to gather from the pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Next, help him find the utensils and other equipment needed to make the meal. These steps take extra time initially, but eventually he will learn where to find everything needed without asking for help.
Prioritize Kitchen & Food Safety: Because parents have been cooking for many years, we sometimes forget to discuss safety in the kitchen. Be sure to discuss these basics with your child if you haven’t already done so.

  • Keep hands clean, washing in soapy water frequently, and not licking fingers while preparing food.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by separating raw and cooked foods; do not reuse bowls or dishes unless they have been washed and dried.
  • Avoid wearing dangling jewelry and loose clothing; always tie back long hair.
  • Keep pot handles turned away from the front of the stove to prevent burns from hot contents being knocked onto you and the floor.
  • Make sure your child knows what to do if there’s a fire in the kitchen. For example, never use water or flour to put out a grease fire, but instead smother it with baking soda if it’s a small fire or have an adult cover it with a pan to remove the oxygen to extinguish the fire. Of course, if there are large flames leave the house immediately and call 911.
  • Before leaving the kitchen, make sure all appliances are turned off, unplugged and clean. Wipe down the microwave and stove once it has cooled.

Work Together: By starting off slowly and preparing meals together, your teen builds skills and confidence at the same time. Your teen can start by preparing some of the ingredients for the recipe or meal with the goal of gradually taking full responsibility for the meal. This approach is less overwhelming and allows your child to ask questions in the moment.
Start Simple: Choosing recipes with just a few ingredients and simple preparation allows your child to be successful from the beginning. Once she becomes more familiar with reading recipes, handling equipment and using the stove and oven, she can progress to more difficult meals. For example, starting with scrambled eggs, quesadillas and pasta with jarred sauce gets your child comfortable using the stovetop. Your child also needs to be comfortable using the oven. Many teens enjoy baking, so starting with a recipe straight from a mix, such as cornbread or muffins, might be an easy win. You can then encourage her to try baking potatoes, frozen chicken tenders or fish sticks. Next, your child can progress to making entrees such as meatloaf and baked chicken. And finally trying more complex recipes with multiple ingredients, such as chili, soups, stews, stir-fry and crockpot dishes.
Teach the Healthy Plate: Although many teens would be happy just eating the entrée as their full dinner, it’s important to encourage them to prepare a balanced meal. In the 400 Moms book, I encourage parents to serve a meal with half the plate being fruits and vegetables, the other half of the plate the entrée, and a glass of milk on the side. These same guidelines should be followed when a teenager is making dinner. A key component to achieving the Healthy Plate is to keep the sidedish preparation very basic. For example, your teen can wash baby carrots and slice apples or make a simple salad and wash strawberries to fill half of the plate.
Even if your child is making a meal once a week, helping to get meals started for you or preparing the fruits and vegetables on other days, he or she is developing valuable life skills that develop independence and a sense of responsibility that will carry on into adulthood. 
Jill West, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified health coach with a private practice in Lafayette. She works with women, families and student athletes helping them make lasting changes that improve their health and performance. Jill is a professional speaker and author of the book 400 Moms. To learn more, call 925-310-5545 or visit or


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