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I Didn’t Know How to Cook. Why I Made Sure My Teen Does

By Melanie Dawson

Some of my clearest memories of my early childhood are of my mom in the kitchen, preparing creamed chip beef on toast, Velveeta cheese dip, liver and onions, and slices of Braunschweiger (a German liver sausage). We were made to finish everything on our plates, including the liver. While those memories aren’t entirely negative, they didn’t do anything to contribute to my interest in learning to cook.

I Didn’t Know How to Cook

My mother also never expressed a desire to teach me her techniques, so when I went to college, I didn’t know how to cook anything except Kraft macaroni and cheese and Hot Pockets. By sophomore year, I was off the school’s meal plan and living in an apartment, routinely setting off the fire alarm trying to cook a chicken breast on a high flame with just a splash of soy sauce. It’s a miracle I didn’t burn the place down.

Little by little, I became more interested in being able to feed myself well and cultivated a desire to learn how to cook. I also decided from the moment she was born that things with my daughter would be different.

My 13-year-old has been in the kitchen with me since she was a baby in the Exersaucer. She can whip up a meal for the family without help. In fact, could make a tortilla soup from scratch before she turned 11.

While I make dinner most nights of the week, many times she will assist me by chopping onions, grating lemon peels, and whisking sauces together. She knows how to read a recipe, measure ingredients, and turn on our very quirky gas stove. She can wield a sharp chef’s knife like a pro (fingers curled under so you don’t cut yourself). And she knows the difference between dice and chop.

My Teen Cook

Why is this so great? Firstly, my husband and I like to go out alone from time to time, and who wants to make dinner just so they can…go out to dinner? She knows how to fend for herself. She can make a simple cheese quesadilla on the stovetop or scramble eggs because she’s been practicing for years. These aren’t high concept gourmet meals, but they also aren’t frozen microwave dinners or out of a box. As she gets older, I know her abilities in the kitchen will no doubt expand.

I’ve been told that sleepovers at our house are more fun when I give the girls the run of the kitchen, and they make a batch of chocolate chip cookies or brownies on their own.

Sometimes, if life isn’t too busy, I put her in charge of choosing and making one meal a week for the family. And mornings? Forget it! While I’m in my pre-caffeinated stupor, she’s making her breakfast.

I know a lot of moms and dads enjoy doing these things for their teenagers. And sometimes I do make my daughter’s snack or breakfast because it brings me joy.

kids, learn cooking Early

But for the most part, my job as a mom is to raise a capable adult who can confidently go out into the world. When she leaves the house someday, I don’t want her subsisting only on microwave pizza rolls and cold cereal like her mom did, and I don’t want her relying on fast food either.

Cooking is a skill that needs to be taught and practiced. It took me years to learn how to do it properly because I didn’t have anyone showing me the ropes. Being confident in the kitchen can translate to being confident in other areas of life. I believe I’m setting her up for a smoother transition to adulthood by encouraging her to develop this skill.

While the thought of her growing up and leaving the nest is sad, I feel good knowing that she will be able to take care of herself when the time comes.

Melanie Dawson

Melanie Dawson lives in Minneapolis, MN with her 13 year old daughter, her husband, and their yellow lab Sammy Sue. She is a Certified Health & Wellness Consultant, obsessive golfer, and according to her family makes a mean caprese pasta. You can find her at her blog Cultivate Wellness and on her Facebook page