The Tender Age of Learning to Cook

Do you remember when you learned to cook? What age were you? Were you eager to learn or was a parent dictating meal assignments?

It’s funny, I don’t really remember learning to cook. I remember Sundays coming home from church in northeast Iowa and making big breakfasts. It was always eggs, bacon and toast – it seldom strayed from that. I do recall my sisters and I in the kitchen cracking the eggs, trying our best not to break the yolk.

Many people recall learning to cook at an average age of 11-13. Some children are exposed to cooking at an earlier age by helping with meal prep and simple cooking tasks. Other young adults may not learn to cook until living on their own in their early 20s.

Being exposed to cooking at an early age does make a difference. Opportunities to participate with food prep is priceless. Although exposure is helpful, it isn’t everything. As a young bride I “assumed” I could cook. Let’s just say what started out as stir fry was not fit for human consumption!

Learn to cook by trying

I’ve heard some comical stories of young wives being pretty green at cooking. A favorite aunt who went on to have several children was one of them. She did it, though, she learned to be a fantastic cook. The secret is to keep trying.

When I had little mouths to feed, I realized I really didn’t have an arsenal of recipes. I had a few, but they were not enough. The one thing I did have was a freezer full of meat… I just had to match up recipes to go along with them. In my mind, I decided to settle on at least five good recipes for each cut of meat: ground meat, roasts, chicken, etc.

I was lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom. My cooking skills improved every day because I kept trying. Of course I had a few flops, but with every winning meal, my recipe book grew. If it wasn’t for having to cook three meals a day, I wouldn’t have the base of recipes I have today.

The ironic thing is that my college-age daughter is scanning recipes as I’m talking. She will be in year 2 of apartment living. She has collected every recipe that she recalls that she likes as a starting place – some from dad and some from mom, others from relatives. Tomorrow we will fill in the blanks to round out the rest of the meals. That is more than I started out as a young bride!

Not to leave out the guys, I can proudly say that both my sons have solid backgrounds in cooking. It helps that we are a cooking family – everyone participates!

When did you learn to cook?

Kids learn to cook from family

The learning to cook journey starts with practicing cooking. During the Covid-19 pandemic which shut down the U.S. in March 2020, news reporters were teaching people how to cook oatmeal – OATMEAL. I think the health pandemic was only secondary to the lack of basic home economic skills across the nation. This skill shortage applies I to all ages – sadly there are middle-aged people who don’t know much about cooking either.

This reminds me of a family that grew up in a town near me. Due to unfortunate circumstances, a young father was left to care and raise three sons alone. Every single one of those young men turned out to be an incredible cook under the guidance of their loving father. That father felt his boys needed to cook. He knew how and made it a point to instruct his boys as well.

Parents – you have a duty. Saying that you hate to cook or no one ever taught you to cook is a crutch. Just as you learned to walk, you must learn to cook. You must cook with your children, with friends, with family. Skills must be shared and passed around. When parents are fully-employed, then cooking must happen on the weekends.

I saw a disturbing McDonald’s commercial the other day. The family was waking up to the morning, and then all piling in the car to go to breakfast at McDonald’s. It was shameful and embarrassing. To sum it up, the commercial highlighted that many people cannot turn out a decent breakfast in their own home. Geez, breakfast is the cheapest and easiest meal to make, not to mention the spending gas money argument driving there.

People – you have to get cooking skills!

Start cooking by keeping it simple

So you have the first important meal goal – learn to cook oatmeal! Other easy-to-master skills include:

  • learn how to fry an egg
  • learn how to brown hamburger
  • master one casserole recipe
  • create one meal that includes a protein, vegetable, and side dish
  • learn how to make one baked item
  • have one “company” meal – (good enough to impress guests)

In the days of bucket lists and goals, learning to cook should be clearly in the TOP 10s. I also highly encourage people to stop buying prepackaged food – learn how to make your own from scratch. “Scratch” by the way, is a term that means you make the entire meal from a recipe by adding each ingredient, no part is pre-made.

Cooking from scratch is an impressive skill to have, one you can boast about. If you ever heard of “blue ribbons” it goes back to county fairs where locals would bring in baked goods and other creations for judging. Bakers would take great pride in their baked goods, hoping to be awarded ribbons that recognized them as the best baker or cook in the county!

YOU can learn how to cook and be proud of your achievements, too!

Start building your own personal recipe collection

My daughter just mentioned to me that she was going to tuck in a cheat sheet of easy meal ideas into her college cookbook. These are the kind of meals that don’t really need a recipe. What a great idea, she’s already on the right path.

You can start your recipe collection, too. Back in the day, recipes used to be clipped from magazine, and they still can be. The allure of mouth-watering pictures on platforms such as Pinterest have us saving more recipes digitally than we could every try.

One short-cut to building a personal recipe collection is to always ask for a recipe at a gathering or at a friend’s house. That’s where some of my best recipes come from. In my past job, we used to have staff potlucks. It was a great way to get new recipes.

If you attend a group picnic or potluck, just ask for the recipe. People are usually flattered, and you already know the recipe is good because you tried it! In no time at all, you will have a solid recipe collection, ready at any moment!

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