How to Teach Your Teen to Cook Real Meals

By Valerie Kirk
Mom teaching teen daughter to cook

How many times has your teen asked you, “What’s for dinner?” Probably several times this week alone. Teens are constantly hungry and are usually foraging through the pantry for something to tide them over until it’s time for dinner. Wouldn’t you love to ask them, “What’s for dinner?” Then teach your teen to cook a real meal!

Cooking is an Essential Life Skill

While teens may know how to boil water to make a box of mac & cheese or pop a bag of popcorn in the microwave, they are just a few short years away from becoming independent adults. When they aren’t on your dime, and realize how expensive—and unhealthy—it is to eat out and order a meal through a delivery service, they will appreciate knowing how to plan a meal, shop for the ingredients and cook a healthy, nutritious dinner.

There are many benefits for teens who know how to cook. They eat fewer fast food meals and eat more vegetables. Studies have shown that adolescents that cook have fewer incidences of depression. Preparing meals for themselves and their families also boosts their self-esteem. And as they get in the habit of cooking at home, they will learn to budget and saving money—and not rely on expensive take-out for their evening meal when they move out on their own.

Try Online Tutorials Together

Teaching teens to cook has never been easier thanks to online video resources. Search “Teen Cooking Classes” on YouTube and your teen can watch tutorials ranging from kitchen basics—think how to boil noodles—to more complex recipes, including “How to Prepare a Sushi Sandwich.” Your teen can even learn some kitchen basics from celebrity chef Gordan Ramsey, who offers a series of videos on basic cooking essential skills, such as “how to chop an onion properly.” Parents may learn a new culinary trick themselves.

Take a Cooking Class

There are several organizations, local county resources and community colleges that offer affordable cooking classes to give your teen a hands-on educational cooking experience. Parents can even take the classes with their teen, offering a great opportunity to spend more time together. There is usually something for everyone with class times after school or on weekends.

If busy schedules prevent you from enrolling in live classes, there are several online, on-demand courses you can take, ranging from kitchen basics to baking, cake decorating and classes focused on specific types of cuisines, such as Thai or vegetarian.

Your child may discover that this life skill is actually a life passion and turn cooking into their career.  

Get in the Kitchen with Your Teen

Teens have their own lives and interests and it becomes increasingly harder to spend quality time with them as they get older. But it’s still important for parents to be actively involved during these impressionable years. A great way to do that is to make family dinner together.

Spending time together in the kitchen opens the lines of communication, offering opportunities for bonding and chatting with your teen at a time when they are more relaxed and willing to be engaged.  And, to help keep your teen interested, search for new recipes together or have your teen pick ones they would like to try. This also helps your teen learn about world cuisines and cultures and can open them up to trying new food and learning more complicated cooking techniques.  

A Trip to the Grocery Store

Many teens may not understand the real cost of keeping food stocked in the pantry with all the right ingredients. Teaching teens to cook provides an opportunity to also teach them about planning, grocery shopping and budgeting.

Take your teen to the grocery store with you to shop for the ingredients. If they are trying a new recipe, have them make the list of ingredients and search the aisles for what they need. It sounds so simple, but grocery shopping is an essential life skill too. This is an opportunity to help them make decisions about buying things on sale, reading labels, looking at expiration dates, choosing good produce and deciding which brands to buy.

Spend some time with them explaining how you make your choices in the grocery store so that when they are on their own, they can make choices at the store that meet their food needs and budgets.

Teaching your teen to cook lays the foundation for building healthy habits. With their new cooking skills and confidence in the kitchen, soon they may be asking you, “What would you like me to cook for dinner tonight?”

Need Some Recipe Inspiration?  

Here are a few beginner/teen-friendly recipes to help get your teen started cooking in the kitchen.

And no dinner would be complete without desert: Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Valerie Kirk is a freelance writer and mom of a teenager and a tween who lives in Gambrills, Md.

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