Stone Soup for Five: Life Skills for Teens--teach them to cook

Life Skills for Teens--teach them to cook

So we started the entitlement project in April after I read the book Cleaning House.  I agreed with her completely, and already knew about 80% of what was in that book, but she had such a way of constantly bringing it around to WHY it was so important.  It was like a kick in the pants to get back into it full force and with more determination than ever.

April's project is done, and they did well.  May's project is based around food.  And part of May's project is for my oldest teen to shop, cook, and clean up for one meal every week.  How's it going? So far there has been no lost fingers or fires or near death experiences!!

Night one, Teen 1 (ever after referred to as T1, The Terminator) decided he'd make tacos for everyone. He didn't want to look through recipes or cookbooks, he felt he could handle tacos, so tacos it is.

 (I originally had typed "T1 decided he'd like to make tacos for everyone, but had to change it because, honestly, T1 DIDN'T WANT to do any of this.) 


He has made taco meat before when he would help me, but that was about the extent of it.  He had never shopped for ground beef and I had to explain the price and fat percentage difference (never even crossed my mind to teach them that before! I'm always running through the store as fast as I can, and if they are with me, they are usually just tagging along fighting--seriously I've had to strategically place them around areas of the cart and instruct them to ONLY look at the left or right side of the store--or they're bored and not paying attention to anything).  

I didn't set a budget for this meal, specifically because I was hoping to let his creativity flow and encourage the FUN.  I'm not sure if that was smart or not... all the next meals have a $10 budget, this one came to about $20 because T1 likes just a touch of taco with his taco meat and opted for the FAMILY SIZE pack of ground beef.

KEY ONE:  Assist but don't take over.  I didn't direct him where to go in the store, I pointed out the different areas and we walked around and found what we needed.  I ran through the usual ingredients we'd need, and told him what we had at home, but left the choices up to him, such as:  Would we have hard or soft shells? Would we have tomatoes or not?, etc.


At home, he unloaded his ingredients and I asked him what time he thought he'd start fixing dinner.  After the initial confusion, he asked "Dad gets home at 5:30, right?  Hmmm... maybe I'll start at like 5:15?"  I suggested maybe a bit earlier like 4:30 and blew him out of the water.  

"An hour?  An HOUR?!  How long is this gonna take?!"

I told him about the things that needed to be done: wash and chop the lettuce, slice olives, grate cheese, cook and drain and season the meat, chop tomatoes, etc.  He thought 5 would be plenty early.  So we left it at that.  I happily went to my other things that needed to be done (okay, I went to my book and the couch).

KEY TWO:  Don't TELL them what to do. Suggest and question.  What are you going to prepare? What are you going to need?  What time will you start?  I also told him I wouldn't be in the kitchen, but would come to help if he needed me to.

So at about 5, I reminded him it was 5 and he came out of his room and went to the kitchen with surprisingly little complaining.  He started cooking the beef (in the wrong pan, at the wrong temperature--but I bit my tongue) and kinda sorta smashed it up a little, but needed help draining it.  I showed him how I do it and he was shocked.  "What? That's going to take forever scooping the grease out", but he did it well.  He read the back of the seasoning packet and DIDN'T SHAKE IT DOWN before tearing it open, spraying red powder all over the counter... AND didn't tap it ALL out into the pan, and carried the 1/4 cup measuring cup across the kitchen three times, sloshing water from the sink to the pan.  Again, BIT MY TONGUE and left the room with a pat on his shoulder.

KEY THREE:  DO NOT HELP unless they ask for it.  YES, they might waste a $10 package of beef, but it will be a hands on lesson learned for a lifetime.  $10 for a "I'll never do that again" lesson? Pretty sweet deal.  AND your kitchen is very clean-able.  It's designed to be messed in and scrubbed up.  Just WALK AWAY.  It'll be worth it. 


He has rarely eaten lettuce, so what to do with a huge head of romaine almost undid him.  He unwrapped it, flopped it on the counter, and asked me "Now what?" as it sat menacing and GREEN on the cutting board.  I told him how I usually do it as he got out our biggest, meanest, sharpest, pointiest knife and slung it around like a rock drummer does his drumsticks.

*deep breath and usual mom-words.  I'm getting a headache*  

I told him how I chop it, and "CURL YOUR FINGERS BACK BECAUSE YOU'RE REALLY GOING TO SLICE THEM OFF THAT WAY", may have been delivered a tad screechy.

Again, at this point, I prayed through all the visions of fingertips lost, knives lodged in the sensitive gut area, blood spurting, 911 calls, ambulance drives while I frantically pray and desperately plead with God not to take my baby because he's just learning how to cook, and he's going to make a great husband someday because I went through all this stress and mess of teaching him!, and tried to go back to my book, and my couch.

KEY FOUR:  True, I rarely watch the news, but when I do, I've never heard of teen deaths from cooking related injuries.  Neither have I heard of kitchens destroyed beyond repair because of teens let loose with taco night.  So just MAKE YOURSELF LEAVE THE ROOM.  Let them grow and learn and shine.  WALK AWAY.


He did a great job finishing with everything and there was no visible blood or fire damage anywhere.  True the kitchen was a hot mess.  Trash and scraps and dirty spoons and knives left like a display of his efforts around the food served in pans and random bowls, but HE. WAS. PROUD.  

The food was excellent. Well seasoned meat, the lettuce was chopped in bite sized pieces, tomatoes chopped, olives sliced, cheese grated.  He was a rock star!  We all heaped on the praises and he glowed.  I was (still am) so proud.
It was a great moment that I had never given him.  

T1 is my struggle.  He is my direct opposite in just about everything. He is fierce and full and at this stage in life, almost always miserable.  But he has this side... this sensitive and soft side, that I rarely get to see.  He keeps it hidden WAY down deep, and it is usually only shown late, late at night, when I'm so tired and done in that I can't fully appreciate it. But it's there, and taco night brought it out.  T1 briefly became human again and it was awesome... all because I LET HIM.  Leaving the kitchen and not hovering over tacos gave him the confidence that HE COULD DO THIS.  And he did.

After the meal, he cleaned up the entire kitchen (Yes, I originally thought I could clean it up myself, since he went through all that to cook... but that's not real life, is it?  I don't have a clean up crew--though I'm slowly training one--but they won't have one in the real world, so they need to do it themselves.  Besides, how are they going to know how helpful it is to clean as you go if they aren't cleaning up after themselves?)
Moms, we don't give our kids enough credit. They are amazing (though moody) people who can do just as much as we can.  They might not do it as cleanly or efficiently as we do, but THEY CAN DO IT.  They can do more than you think.  It is SO worth the whining, headaches, complaints and attitudes to bring out the confidence that they can do this.  It's funny how my kids keep their competence hidden beneath their complaining.  

If you're like me, and know you SHOULD do this, but don't have the time/energy/courage... let me give you a shove and a hug and tell you to DO IT.  THIS WEEK.  The first step is the hardest, so stop putting it off.  I think you'll be surprised, like I was, how fun it can be to watch them learn how to do this.

Choose a kid, tell them how excited you are to help them learn a life skill, and ask them what they're going to cook for dinner this week. 

It is worth it!



  1. I did this a couple of years ago (Just the letting them prepare the meal part) and it was really fun! Gotta start that up again. Thanks for the motivation!

    By the way, what do you do when they complain? For now we just add on more chores (usually making the other kid's chores lighter), but I would love to know how you do it. You are so creative. Thanks!

    1. Ya, I think my biggest struggle is to KEEP them doing the task and not take it back. I teach, they do, and I eventually take it back again. NEED to quit doing that! As far as the complaining, they usually get more chores.... No real answers here because some days are worse than others, and some days I'm worse than others... But ya, usually more chores or no video games, etc.


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