After all, handing your kids a fish will only feed them for a day.
I don’t think I can pinpoint the first official cooking lesson I ever received. I have vague memories of decorating cookies at camp and making cheesy apple toast at a kid’s summer cooking class. I even turned my family dining room into a restaurant a few times—complete with a printed three-course menus.
As far back as I can remember, the kitchen was never a foreign, or off-limits place to me. I was lucky enough to have parents who cooked with me regularly and more structured cooking courses available to me in public school from sixth through 12th grade. I’d like to say it’s through that hands-on experience (the kind that’s a little more than pressing start on the microwave) that I developed healthy cooking—and consequently, eating—habits.
Sure, in high school one of our required health classes included a unit on basic nutrition, but I couldn’t tell you a thing I learned. Calories are something I shouldn’t have an excessive amount of, right? I should eat more fruits and veggies, yeah? Well, when my mom was the one primarily setting the menu for my three meals a day and doing all of the grocery shopping, I’m not so sure how relevant those little nuggets of knowledge were at the time. That said, even if those fundamentals of nutrition weren’t ingrained into my memory, I believe my experiences in the kitchen at an early age have very much ingrained positive nutritional habits into my cooking as an adult.
What I'm describing is by no means unique to me and my childhood experience. There’s actually real science behind this. A study recently published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found evidence that developing cooking and food preparation skills as a young adult can have a major impact on your future health and well-being. The study concluded that those who learn to cook at a young age are more likely to cook vegetable-forward meals, avoid fast food, and eat more frequently with their families.
That sounds about right to me. I learned countless valuable lessons observing and helping my family cook, as well as spending days in my public high school’s bare-bones kitchen. I learned more than just how to properly set a table (which I am very proud of and find it to be a valuable life skill).
In my high school home economics courses, I learned kitchen basics like knife skills, and more complicated tasks like how to make fresh pasta and sauce. At home, I was able to translate this knowledge and help my parents with dinner by slicing veggies for salad or mixing together ingredients for a fruity salsa to top a piece of grilled fish.
WATCH: How to Cut Up a Pineapple
So, all of this exposure to cooking as a child and budding young adult instantly made me a health-conscious, cooking connoisseur, right? Not so much. I left to study abroad after high school, and like every other teenager who moves away—I was very overwhelmed. I had to actually make anything I wanted to eat.
After a relatively brief phase ordering pizza and living off of boxes of cereal and spaghetti, I realized the boxed meal lifestyle wasn’t for me. By my senior year of college, I hardly ever ate junk food. While my roommates microwaved bags of Ready Rice as a late night snack and ate boxed macaroni and cheese for breakfast, I was chopping fresh vegetables for omelettes, baking sheet pans of nutty granola to sprinkle over fruit and yogurt, and pureeing butternut squash into a creamy soup.
My cooking knowledge and experience, that had been evolving for years at this point, allowed me to be creative in the kitchen, and make overall healthier choices for myself. Now that I’m out of school, I still cook for myself every day. I find that I truly enjoy spending my Sunday preparing lunches for the week and going to the market isn’t a chore. I treat my cooking like a fun project. It’s not only a way to nourish myself, but a way to relax after work and let my creativity shine.
I’m definitely not saying your kid needs to enroll in the first culinary course they’re eligible for, but helping them feel comfortable in a cooking space can do wonders for their future well-being. Including them in the meal prep process, even with the simplest of tasks, will lay the foundation for developing life skills that can make a huge impact on their future.