One of the best ways I have found to connect with my kids is to embrace the things they love and participate with them in it.
I got lucky with my oldest daughter, she loves to cook. She binge watches the Food Network, goes to culinary camp, and likes to experiment with food. We cook at home together, but at times it’s sporadic because of our busy school and sports schedule. I realized that If I truly wanted to connect with my daughter and cultivate the talents she had, I needed to set aside a consistent time for her to explore her passion. So, when she was 10 years old, I started a cooking club for her and a few girls in our neighborhood.
I knew it would be a fun way to enjoy time with my daughter but I didn’t realize it would also be a great way to connect with her friends. I have known many of these girls since kindergarten, however, the cooking club has provided a unique opportunity to mentor them as well. I discovered...
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For me, mentoring looks like teaching a group of teens how to crack an egg, sift flour, and emulsify ingredients. Each time I interact with these girls I have the opportunity to encourage them and influence them in a positive way.
If you think starting a cooking club sounds like a great idea, check out these tips that will help get you started:
Invite kids to participate. The number of girls will depend on what you are making and how hands-on you want to be as a host. We started out with a total of 6 girls. With two girls to a “team”, we made three items: specialty drink, appetizer, entrée, side dish, or dessert. As the girls became more independent, we added an additional food item and two more to the group.
Choose a regularly scheduled time. Keep it simple and pick the same day and time each month. At first, we tried to accommodate everybody’s schedule month by month. Eventually, it became confusing and sometimes we had to skip a month because we had trouble resolving schedule conflicts.
Decide on a budget. It’s important to know how much you are willing to spend each month. My daughter would choose seafood and filet mignon every month if I allowed her, but when you’re cooking for a large group it can get expensive fast. You can choose whether to pay for the groceries yourself, charge monthly dues, have members bring ingredients, or take donations.
Choose meals that fit the children's age and ability. Start off with simple recipes in the beginning. Many of the girls in our group never cooked before joining our club. In the beginning, we chose recipes that required only basic culinary skills. My daughter and I taught them how to chop, dice, and properly measure ingredients. Now that the group has been together for three years, we moved on to more complex recipes that require reducing liquids and blanching vegetables. Ask about allergies before choosing the meals.
Read through recipes and create a timeline. Once you have chosen the meals make sure you have time to make everything. Don't pick recipes that need to be marinated or chilled overnight. Also, not every recipe takes the same amount of time to cook so plan accordingly.
Set up individual stations ahead of time. Stations should include a copy of the recipe with pots, pans, utensils, and ingredients that are needed.
Confiscate phones. It’s important to be fully present essential when working with flames, hot surfaces, and knives. Our girls place their phone in a bucket as soon as they arrive. I was hesitant ask this at first, but the no one seemed to mind, now it’s routine. The only time they're allowed to use their phone is to set a timer and take pictures.
Have fun! I often find myself just running around behind the girls cleaning up. Other times I walk them through recipes teaching them tips and tricks.
Eat together. The best part of the evening is sitting down with these young people and as they enjoy the results of their hard work. I have been tempted to hang back in the kitchen to clean up or sit somewhere else to eat. However, I realized eating together was the perfect opportunity to talk with these girls about school, favorite subjects, and sports. As our relationship has deepened we've begun to talk about the pressures they deal with at school and their relationships.
Whether you are looking for something fun to do with your child or desire a way to invest into the next generation, a cooking club is a great place to start. If cooking is not your thing, that’s ok. There are many other ways to connect with your child. Take time to discover your child’s passions and let them lead the way.