It’s certainly extremely important to source and prepare healthy meals for your family while your children are growing, but it is equally as important that children know how to continue these healthy habits when they are living on their own.
This lesson hits home in the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. The author, Dr. Weston Price describes how healthy, robust children raised in traditional societies with nary a cavity rapidly become plagued with dental caries and worse, tuberculosis, within a year or two of leaving home to go live in the modern European cities of that time.
The good news is that these children regained their health when they returned to the healthy habits of their early years, but certainly much suffering could have been avoided if the habits of their forebears were never abandoned in the first place.
It’s important for children to understand that good health growing up can quickly be squandered when they leave the nest if they begin making poor dietary choices for themselves on a regular basis.
In order to give children the best shot at success in nourishing themselves, basic food preparation and cooking skills must be learned and mastered while they are still at home.
Below are the cooking skills I would consider to be the absolute minimum a young adult needs to know before leaving the nest. For young adults going to university, it would be best to secure a dormitory situation with access to a kitchen. In a pinch, a small hot plate (I like this one) and a mini refrigerator can be used in the dorm room itself for preparing/storing simple nutritious meals.
What is the best age to start teaching these cooking skills? This of course depends on the maturity of the child and whether older siblings are there to assist and supervise when Mom and Dad may be unavailable. As a general rule, around age 10 is a good time for some basic skills to be learned with gradual independence gained in the ensuing adolescent years.
Cooking Skill #1: How to Prepare Eggs
I would consider knowing how to cook eggs to be the most important cooking skill of all. Since eating eggs the same way all the time can get very boring, teaching children the many ways to prepare eggs will keep them eating this most perfect of foods on a frequent basis hopefully at least several times a week.
Even the highest quality eggs are rather inexpensive compared with other nutrient dense foods, so this is another reason budget challenged young adults need to know how to prepare them seven ways to Sunday – scrambled, fried, over easy, over hard, poached, soft boiled, hard boiled etc.
Years ago when I was in graduate school and living on $560/month, I ate scrambled eggs almost every single day for dinner. At the time, I didn’t realize what an excellent choice I was making by doing this. I simply knew eggs were cheap and fast and filling.
Cooking Skill #2: How to Soak a Pot of Oatmeal
Staying off refined carbohydrates is arguably the hardest task to accomplish for anyone trying to eat healthy. The primary example of cheap, addictive carbs in our society is probably boxed breakfast cereals which many young adults eat multiple times per day.
Avoiding those boxed breakfast cereals (even if organic) that are at least twice as expensive per serving and toxic to boot and replacing with a simple, nutritious bowl of porridge also helps the food budget considerably with no loss in pleasure or enjoyment.
But not just any oatmeal. Ripping open a package of instant oatmeal, pouring it in a mug with some water and nuking it in the microwave for a couple minutes is NOT nourishing!
Instead, children should be taught how to soak rolled oats overnight, cooking them up the next morning. This traditional technique improves digestibility considerably, thereby maximizing nutrient absorption. Leftovers can be refrigerated for quick warmups on subsequent mornings or for snacks. Learning this technique will go a long way toward helping them avoid the carb trap once they are on their own.
Note also that there are a number of other gluten free options for soaked breakfast porridge if oats don’t appeal. Teff, buckwheat, and amaranth porridge are all excellent and delicious options to overnight oats.
Cooking Skill #3: How to Make Bone Broth
It is imperative for children to learn how to make homemade stock or bone broth in order to stay away from store bought soups, canned broth or stock (including bouillon cubes) when they are on their own. Canned or tetra packed soups are never healthy options even when organic as they are highly processed and very low in nutrition, typically loaded with neurotoxic MSG and other additives.
Almost all culinary traditions from around the world include meat or fish stocks. Dr. Francis Pottenger MD promoted the stockpot as the most important piece of equipment in the kitchen. He advocated liberal use of homemade stock because it attracts digestive juices to itself in a manner similar to raw foods. Foods that attract digestive juices are much more easily digested and assimilated by the body.
During time of frugality such as what many young adults experience when first leaving home, homemade stock helps keep the food budget in check by allowing health to be maintained with only small amounts of meat in the diet. This is due to large amounts of 2 amino acids in the broth which act together as a protein sparer, allowing more efficient utilization of the complete meat proteins that are eaten once or twice a week.
Homemade stock, which can easily be made into soup by blending in vegetables and meat, is not just food, but also medicine. Stock used frequently in the diet offers protection from gastrointestinal illness, as the natural gelatin acts a neutralizer of intestinal poisons helping to relieve diarrhea and even dysentery.
Cooking Skill #4: How to Make Their Favorite Fermented Food or Drink
Maintaining intestinal health is critical to overall wellness with probiotic and enzyme rich fermented foods and beverages playing a key role. Whether your child loves sauerkraut, kombucha, water kefir, yogurt, mango chutney or homemade root beer, he or she needs to know how to initiate and maintain probiotic cultures through regular preparation of a favorite fermented food – ideally several. This blog contains numerous articles and video how-to’s for preparing fermented foods.
A good fermented food I would suggest that children learn is how to make kefir, which is very similar in texture and taste to yogurt. The difference is that kefir is much easier to make than yogurt and has more powerful probiotic cultures to boot. Kefir can be used in smoothies or mixed with fruit for an enjoyable snack. And, for places where raw milk is unavailable, kefir can be quickly prepared with a starter culture (sources) and low temp pasteurized, nonhomogenized milk from the healthfood store or even some grocery stores.
Cooking Skill #5: How to Roast a Chicken
It is surprising how many adults have no idea how to roast a chicken having come to rely on boneless, skinless chicken breasts and other separate poultry cuts from the supermarket for so many years.
Roasting a chicken is embarrassingly simple and one of the key cooking skills for adolescents to learn as it will not only encourage them to seek quality chicken from local, small poultry producers but it will also provide them a ready supply of chicken bones for making homemade bone broth and nourishing soups.
Roasting a whole chicken as opposed to buying individual parts is also much more budget friendly with plenty of leftovers provided from that single cooking event. Saving time is very important for many young people!
What basic cooking skills do you consider important for teaching children? For those of you with older children, have they struggled or thrived making nutritional decisions for themselves once leaving home?
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.