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Life Skills 101: Cooking With Teens & Tweens

Nunchaku skills… bowhunting skills… computer hacking skills… Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills!

-Napoleon Dynamite

My eighth grader is taking a class in school called ‘Life Skills.’ He’s scraping by with a ‘gentleman’s C,’ so I doubt he’s ready for life on his own in the wild. Or suburbia, for that matter.

So there’s no getting around it. I must teach ‘life skills’ here at home too. And one of the best ways to do that is to cook with my teen and my other three younger boys. It would certainly be quicker, neater and yes, saner, to ban them from the kitchen. But they have a lot to learn before they become men, so there’s simply no time for sanity.

I want them to know how to cook because cooking is a vehicle for much more important lessons. And these lessons are best taught not when I micromanage, but when I sit back with my red wine glass and let them do some problem solving on their own. I’m right near by at the kitchen island, but not breathing down their necks. Here are some ‘life skills’ we’ve learned in the Masercola kitchen lately.

Slow down & think: This is a toughie. (We have at least three confirmed cases of ADHD in this household.) Nothing teaches you to sweat the details like the difference between “tsp’ and tbsp.” Especially when it’s salt. In a pie.

Or, just slow down: Nothing teaches patience, or the tasty rewards of patience, like stirring a pot of risotto. It’s the perfect tween task.

What’s the plan, man? If you are plopping a pound of powdered sugar into a sifter, do you have a bowl available to catch it or is it going to drift all over the counter like that scene from Scarface?

Watch out for the sharp stuff: I still remember ‘Bloody Thanksgiving 2007,’ when I gave two of my grade schoolers some potato peelers and told them to have at it. Both of them emerged with several minor wounds and plenty of band aids. Both are now mashed potato maestros and have even progressed to minor knife skills, under my close supervision of course.

It’s not the end of the world: Back to the salt. So, you dumped that ‘tbsp’ (instead of a ‘tsp’) into the dry ingredients. Pull yourself together, man! Have you stirred it in yet? If not, can you carefully scoop most of it out? It’s just that kind of adaptability that your future employers are looking for.

So what have YOUR teens and tweens learned from cooking? What have YOU learned? Tell us all about. Visit  Yum Food and Fun for Kids on Facebook.

-Erin Masercola

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