I get asked frequently what are the most important culinary skills for kids to develop. Here are my Top 5 skills to help kids learn the key aspects of cooking.
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Skill No. 1: Chopping
Let’s start with the most core principle of cooking: being able to chop. This is just using a knife to form a vegetable, or any ingredient, into different shapes. Foods that are the same shape and size make cooking process move forward efficiently.
Chopping is making a salad out of a head of romaine lettuce, a carrot and some tomatoes.
It’s the key to taking a large chicken breast and turning it into perfect 1″ cubes to par-fry for a taste Healthy Orange Chicken.
Without chopping, you can’t move forward with cooking.
Skill No. 2: Sautéing
Roasting and baking are helpful, but I saute my foods most of the time. I think kids need to know how to saute as well because it’s:
FAST – with a pan, a bit of oil and medium-high heat, you can cook nearly any type of food. That same food would take 2-3x as long to cook in a hot oven
EASY – all you need is a heat source and a pan
HEALTHY – by only using a bit of oil, you can turn raw broccoli or zucchini or asparagus into a tasty side dish, without adding much fat.
Skill No. 3: Cleaning
Cleaning up efficiently makes the culinary process more enjoyable. Why? Because you’re cleaning as you go, and the dishes don’t pile up.
Most home chefs just make a giant mess (and I’m guilty of this too)…but when you stop and do some dishes between each stage of the cooking process, it saves your kitchen (and your sanity).
Good times to stop and clean are
– After chopping your veggies and getting your mise-en-plas setup
– when you put food in the oven and have time to kill before serving
– right after the food is ready (like a steak) and as it needs to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Skill No. 4: Following Directions
A recipe is nothing more than a step-by-step guide to achieving a completed dish. Completing a recipe is a key skill because it helps kids learn to stop, focus and study as they cook.
It’s a skill that will help other areas of life like school work or large personal projects.
There’s an order to a recipe and you CAN’T jump around (imagine trying to cook something before you even properly chopped it).
Patience and focus are key parts of new cooking and only after you know the basics of a recipe are you able to adapt and play with the recipe to suit your palate.
Skill No. 5: Seasoning (and Tasting)
This is arguably the most important skill and it’s kind of a 2 for 1.
Seasoning is using salt appropriately to elevate the taste of each ingredient. The difference between restaurant-style food and your own food has a lot to do with proper seasoning (and a bit of butter…)
I find most food is just slightly under seasoned, but with a bit of salt, it hits its perfect level of taste.
With seasoning also comes TASTING.
Recipes require kids to take a bite, or a spoonful, before they serve it! (This is actually one of our core rules of the culinary classroom)
By seeing that the dressing needs a bit more salt, honey or vinegar, you can take the food to another level.
It’s the same with a tomato sauce or a creamy tiramisu.
If your child is looking for a starting point, begin with chopping, and start to bring in these other skills over time. Don’t think you need to have your child master all 5, but start with a new focus each week.