I ran a cooking lesson yesterday with a group of terrific teenage girls who wanted to learn more about healthy food. They had varying levels of kitchen experience, so I kept it simple and planned a menu geared to develop some basic skills, including how to: (1) prep and roast vegetables (cauliflower and sweet potatoes), (2) blend a basic vinaigrette and prepare a green salad, (3) marinate a lean protein and grill it, and (4) make soup (butternut squash and red lentil). With this arsenal, they could easily put together a healthy, two-course meal for their own families, or just make themselves a great snack or lunch.
The class was really fun for me, and I was in my happy place watching them inhale plate after plate of vegetables. In addition to a host of kitchen skills, I had the opportunity to explain the difference between whole and processed food, the importance of cooking for yourself and not always turning to a package, good and bad fats, hidden sugars, and the reason why people can’t stop overeating the three Bad Boys—white flour, white sugar, and refined oil. (Hint: most all of the water, fiber, and nutrients have been taken out, so your body has no idea how to “read” them. That, and they’re engineered to be physically addictive.)
I think they all went away inspired by how simple it can be to prepare delicious food on your own, and why it’s important to learn this skill early on—to avoid everything from the “freshman twenty” to long-term illness.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ve stressed before that educating your children and teens in this is no less important than teaching them how to bathe, read, or drive a car. Kids who do not develop this basic skill are doomed to become victims of our toxic processed food culture, sentenced to a lifelong struggle with food.
If you don’t cook, view your children’s need as an opportunity for your own personal growth. Go take a few local cooking classes, watch Tasty or other YouTube instructional videos, and tune into food shows on TV. There are cooking teachers, camps, and programs at local community houses that help adults and children alike get comfortable in the kitchen. If you live in the metro Detroit area, Schoolcraft College offers intensive youth culinary programs in the summer—check them out. You can even pick up a class at Sur La Table stores at your local mall.
I do need to enter one caveat about classes billed as “cooking for kids.” Quite often all they propose to teach kids is how to make cookies, brownies, and cake. Steer clear of class menus based solely on white sugar and flour, as though these are all kids could possibly be interested in learning about. The enthusiasm of my students yesterday is sure proof to the contrary.
If you already cook, you are of course your children’s best resource for learning how to prepare food. Invite them into your kitchen space and give them the lifelong tools they will need to feed and care for their own bodies. And, by the way, there is a special kind of bonding that can only occur in this setting. Try it and see.
It is well known to my readers that Americans’ eating habits are fueling the so-called “diabesity epidemic” that is shortening both the quality and length of most of our lives. Children who are not schooled in healthy eating are destined to become a statistic. Get them on the path of good food awareness early on. It’s our responsibility as parents.