Cooking 101 for Your College-Bound Child

Teach your children the basics and beyond

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

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.

Mom 101

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.

Simple Recipes

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:

  • Breakfast foods. Popular with most teenagers and easy to prepare, these were first on the list. Pancakes, omelets, and scrambled eggs are easy anytime meals.
  • Beverages, ranging from a good cup of coffee to steeping hot and cold tea.
  • Baked goods, including Mom's favorite oatmeal cookies, as well as muffins, breads, and doctoring cake mixes.
  • Pasta cooking techniques, including quick-and-easy sauces and various combinations to increase vegetables and fiber in the meal.
  • Seasonings, including tips on cutting an onion, mincing garlic and fresh herbs, as well as a list of cupboard must-haves.
  • Grilling basics for poultry, steaks, burgers, and vegetables, suitable for the portable grill.
  • Soups, stews, and crock pot dishes. All make inexpensive, nutritious, and filling meals.
  • Ethnic cuisine, including favorite recipes for tacos, spaghetti, and simple stir-fry dishes.
  • Multiple ways to prepare chicken and ground beef.
  • Simple salads that can serve as side dishes or main meals.

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.

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