When I speak to parenting groups about cooking and making memories in the kitchen with their kids, I always spend some time on a crucial step to cooking: meal planning. Because for most of us, it’s not the cooking that we struggle with, it’s the planning. It’s the stopping to gather recipes and then making the grocery list. And finally putting a trip to the grocery store on your planner, prioritized right along with Joey’s karate class and Lisa’s ballet and open house and PTA. … It takes time and effort, but your chances for making healthy choices at dinner are far greater if after a busy day, you you come home to a well-stocked pantry and a plan in hand. In fact, with the planning out of the way, cooking can actually be an enjoyable way to wind down from the day.
When we meal-plan and cook our own meals, we eat healthier. If we know this to be true, then this must also be true:If we want to raise a healthy generation of kids, we must teach them how to plan for, shop for and prepare meals for themselves. And even if you aren’t able to actually get into a kitchen with real ingredients for your students, you can play a big part in preparing students for an essential life skill—cooking—all while still addressing many of the school subjects you are required to cover. The best place to start teaching students how to cook for themselves is with the most elementary supplies: a pencil, a piece of paper and a book—a cookbook, that is.
Ideas for Teaching Your Students How to Meal-Plan
Make a Menu
Invite students to make a week’s worth of dinner menus for a family of four. Bring cookbooks for them to look through or send them home to look at their own family cookbooks. The Internet is a great resource, too, if they have access to it, so they can see pictures. Have them print, copy or rewrite recipes as they find the ones they want to use.
Allow them to incorporate leftovers on two nights, keeping in mind that the recipes they plan to eat twice must be recalculated to make eight servings.
Set standards for what qualifies as a meal. Every meal must have a protein (meat, fish or legume), a non-starchy vegetable, and a starchy vegetable or whole grain. Don’t be too picky. Let them have fun and dream up exciting menus, even if they aren’t perfectly balanced. The idea here is to get them excited about a future in which they get to plan and prepare their own meals.
Make a Grocery List
Once they’ve made their menus and have copies of their recipes, have them make a grocery list with all the ingredients they need. You can print off copies of this Grocery List by Food Groups to help them understand how to organize a shopping list.
For a homework project, you could have them compare the list to their pantry at home, then go to the store with a parent to price all the items they’d have to buy to make their menu.
Learn the Vocabulary
Have them look up and define cooking terms in the directions of their recipes; words such as sauté, chop, dice, mince, simmer, boil.
Learn by Demonstration
Either show the students YouTube cooking clips on certain techniques, like how to chop an onion, or bring the ingredients and demonstrate a technique yourself.
From the class’s menus, pick a few of the recipes that you could make in the classroom or make at home for them and let the kids vote on the one they want to try. (Check your school policies on bringing food into the classroom first.)
Pick one technique to learn in class. Whipping is a fun technique; try whipping cream or egg whites, letting each kid take a turn with the whisk.
Pick out three ingredients from the recipes that the students were unfamiliar with and bring them to class to let them feel, smell and taste them.
As an assignment, have students help their moms or dads make dinner one night.
More Classroom Applications
Writing: Have the students write a creative story using several of the cooking vocabulary words.
History: Assign a research paper on famous chefs or a certain cuisine from around the world.
Science: Baking and cooking are as much science as they are nostalgia. What makes a cookie crispy versus chewy versus cakey? Science. What is the difference between baking soda and baking powder? Science answers that too. Will warm water boil faster (and get that pasta on the table sooner)? Do a science experiment to find out!
Math: Like science, math can be taught in almost every part of planning and cooking. Teach students how to convert a recipe for 12 to feed a family of four. Have them memorize the common measurement conversions that simplify cooking (3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon, 1 cup = 16 tablespoons, 1 cup = 8 ounces, 4 cups = 1 quart, 16 ounces = 1 pound). Have three students each measure a cup of flour and weigh them to see if they are consistent. Then explain why professional recipes call for flour in weight and not cups.
Art: Bring an interesting fruit or vegetable and have the students sketch it.
Public speaking: Have each student do a how-to speech, teaching the class a simple recipe or cooking technique.
Cooking and menu planning is not only a practical life skill, it is also a practical way to teach students about math, science, reading and vocabulary, about following directions and problem solving.
Rachel Randolph is a mom to a busy toddler boy and a wife to an even busier high school football and baseball coach. She is co-author of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, a food memoir written with her mom, and their upcoming book Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness, and a Full Night’s Sleep(Zondervan, January 2015). She also blogs at www.TheNourishedMama.com and www.laughcrycook.com.