Cooking 101 for Your College-Bound Child
Teach your children the basics and beyond
By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
Beyond scrambled eggs and sandwiches, I was pretty much lost in the kitchen of my first apartment in college. When I realized I was responsible for preparing dinner once a week for my roommates, I felt completely overwhelmed.
Mom got the 911 call, and sent a couple of favorite family recipes she could talk me through. With time, patience, a few inedible dishes, and the cooking wisdom bestowed upon me by my savvier roommates, I ultimately learned to churn out decent and healthy meals.
During this learning process, I decided that my yet-to-be-born children were going to know their way around the kitchen. But as the years passed, sports, lessons, and friends always seem to interfere with my intentions to teach my two children the kitchen basics. My chance finally came during my son's senior year of high school.
My son managed to talk his way into early release his final semester of high school. This time is actually designed for internships or work-related experiences, but neither would work for Andrew because of his tennis team matches and practices.
We settled on an 18-week curriculum titled "Mom 101." Here was my opportunity to teach him all the life skills I knew before he left for college (well, almost all). After scouring bookstores, libraries, and the Internet in a vain search for a book to guide me, I decided to develop my own curriculum (I keep threatening to write a manual for parents who want to prepare their children before they leave the nest, and I may actually do it now that my daughter is college-bound).
Every afternoon, my son (and a few years later, my daughter), and I enjoyed quality time together as we went over an extensive list of kitchen skills, along with laundry basics, first aid, money management, car maintenance, planning for college, and the all-important parental expectations while away from home.
Each child kept a notebook to write down tips, recipes, and reference information they could use and build on later. Our first field trip was to the grocery store, where I showed them how to read labels, select fresh produce and lean cuts of meat, pick out fresh seafood, and understand expiration date codes.
They also learned simple techniques such as the best way to navigate a grocery store: first, hit the center aisles where the nonperishable items are usually located, followed by breads, produce, dairy, and last, frozen foods.
Together we chose recipes that the kids loved, and that were healthy and easy to prepare. Mediterranean Pasta was their hands-down favorite, and it has been prepared for family and friends numerous times.
We discussed what goes into a well-stocked pantry , and the importance of having all the ingredients measured before you start cooking, and of cleaning as you go.
Each day, we prepared an item or two (which we usually ate for dinner) until we checked off all of these items on our curriculum:
Handle With Care
Kids in the kitchen are not always the neatest, and germs run rampant on college campuses. You can't be too careful when it comes to proper food handling. Mom 101 (and my daughter's advanced-level course, Mom 201) put great emphasis on the importance of proper dishwashing, soaking utensils, and cleaning up after meals. Food safety, hand washing, cleaning of sponges and cutting boards, sanitizing the workspace, proper food storage, leftovers, and using thermometers in both the freezer and refrigerator were addressed.
One More Thing Before You Leave
It was difficult for me to say good-bye to my son three years ago, and it's going to be even harder when I take my daughter to school this fall. Spending this special time with each of my children gave me a wonderful opportunity to impart some domestic wisdom, but, more important, it was cherished time to be together.