By Erica Leon, MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD
Today my twenty-three-year-old son moved to a new city eight hundred miles away for a
job opportunity. As a typical mother, I am going to worry about him adjusting well and
meeting friendly people, along with a dozen other unnecessary concerns. However, I will
never have to worry about whether or not he eats healthfully.
Without expensive lessons or significant input from me, my son learned to cook so well
that when he is home, our kitchen looks and smells like a five-star restaurant. My
college-aged vegetarian daughter also prepares meals for herself, such as soups and stir-
fry dishes that include tofu and vegetables.
While these culinary family moments make me feel proud, if I could do it all again, I
would teach my children how to cook for themselves at a young age. Cooking is an
important life skill that promotes independence, responsibility, and frugality (since it’s
less expensive than eating out every meal). Add to that knowledge about proper nutrition
and healthy eating and you have passed on a gift to your children that they will always
Here are some important cooking and life skills that your child would benefit from
learning as it becomes age-appropriate:
- Sanitation and food safety: Teach your child the importance of washing hands as
well as surfaces before and after meal preparation
- Food quantities and measurement: Involve your child in using math and reasoning
skills as he/she figures out proportions in recipes
- Cutting fruits and vegetables: Help your child improve manual dexterity as he/she
progresses from plastic utensils to regular knife skills
- Respect kitchen dangers: Show your child how to respect hidden dangers in the
kitchen, including sharp knives, flames, and electricity
- Menu planning: Involve your child in planning meals ahead of time as well as
cooking them, and watch him/her be receptive to trying new recipes
- Research: Look for new recipes online, in cookbooks, or in magazines
- Communication: Enjoy the closeness that only shared activities can bring!
Part of teaching your children how to cook is the skill of following recipes and the
excitement of creating new meal ideas. Here are two dishes my children learned to cook
on their own—without my assistance or input.
Tofu Stir-Fry Rebecca Style
1 package extra firm tofu
½ medium yellow onion
1 cup fresh broccoli
1 large red pepper
2 cups spinach leaves
2 tbsp. reduced sodium teriyaki sauce
1 ½ tbsp. sesame oil (or canola)
1. Start by pressing the water out of the tofu. Place it between paper towels and put a heavy
pot or book atop the tofu. Leave for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the vegetables
into bite-size pieces.
2. Slice the tofu into even squares and sauté in 1 tbsp. sesame oil over medium heat for
about 2–3 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the pan. Sauté vegetables in ½
tbsp. oil, add tofu and teriyaki sauce, and simmer for one more minute. Enjoy!
Robby’s Rockin’ Turkey Chili
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, diced
6 jalapeno peppers, diced (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. fresh ground turkey
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp. cumin
5 tbsp. chili powder
1 16 oz. can black beans
1 16 oz. can pinto beans
1. Sauté diced onion, jalapeno, and minced garlic in oil until soft.
2. Add turkey and cook turkey until brown.
3. Add some chili pepper, cumin, and salt.
4. Add crushed tomatoes and bring to a boil.
5. Add more spices. Add black beans and pinto beans and bring from a boil to low heat.
6. Add more spices; simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.
7. Serve hot with cheese, sour cream, and/or scallions. Bon appetit!
Having your children learn how to cook healthy and delicious meals offers one more
important benefit—you will have less worry as they learn to navigate the ups and downs
of adult living. I will always be assured that my kids are eating healthfully.