The Very First Food You Should Teach Your Kids to Cook

published Jul 6, 2021
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Credit: Nick Dekker

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Ours is a breakfast-loving family, so by default we eat a lot of eggs. We’ve served them every which way: fried, scrambled, hard- and soft-boiled, poached, in quiches, in omelets, you name it. Our 9-year-old in particular is enthralled with cooking eggs, and I’ve discovered how eggs and egg techniques are a little in-road to teaching him how to cook.

I didn’t learn much about cooking as a kid, just how to fry bologna and microwave scrambled eggs. So it’s been my goal to teach our 9- and 12-year-old boys, Owen and Will, the basics. Because eggs are so versatile and inexpensive, they make for the perfect blank slate.

Because eggs are so versatile and inexpensive, they make for the perfect blank slate.

I asked a few other parents to share their stories about cooking with eggs and kitchen time with kiddos, and here’s what we whipped up!

Start by helping them crack the egg

Shawnie Kelley is a chef instructor and food writer in Columbus, Ohio, and she’s imparted her extensive knowledge to her 5-year-old Gabe and 9-year-old Madalyn. “We’re a huge egg family,” she says. “Just how to crack an egg was the first thing — how to crack it on a surface so you don’t get shards. My daughter will say she can crack an egg in a straight line.”

Keep them safe with essential lessons

For me, teaching my kids to cook eggs lets me emphasize kitchen safety, especially when dealing with hot pans, boiling water, and knives.

Melissa Parker is a school psychologist in Worthington, Ohio. The pandemic became an opportunity for her and her husband Dan to let 9-year-old Evan experiment. “We didn’t intentionally pick eggs as our starting point but we all like eggs,” she says. “Since we were all home it was a good way to learn some basic skills like safety in the kitchen, using different utensils and the stovetop.”

Show them how versatile an egg actually is

Just like chefs mastering the many ways to cook an egg, kids can build basic cooking skills the same way. “Eggs are great because it’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” says Parker. “If you learn eggs it gives you a good foundation for other foods. Evan liked watching Chopped and Chopped Junior. He wanted to explore a little bit, and I feel like at that age they’re wanting to assert independence and that was a good place to start. It was a fun way to teach him a new skill, something he‘ll have his whole life.”

Eggs also prove to be an inexpensive ingredient. Stephen and Jenna Swanson, a professor and an office manager, respectively, in Waco, Texas, are teaching their two boys, Henry (13) and Charles (10) as well. “We started them with scrambled eggs,” Jenna shares. “Henry wanted to learn how to do omelets. He was super into J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Food Lab cookbook. He wanted to cook through that so we had to start somewhere. We had chickens at the time, so eggs were the cheapest thing we had to start with.”

“Henry learned omelets, over easy eggs, fried eggs,” Stephen adds. “And then he went off.”

Credit: Nick Dekker

Educate them about the principles of timing

Cooking eggs properly is all about timing. The Swansons have used eggs as a way to educate their boys in pan temperatures, how eggs react to cold pans versus hot pans, how different oils cook, and how to find the patience to wait for things to heat up.

Stephen shared that 10-year-old Charles wanted to learn after watching his older brother. “For him, it’s mostly teaching him patience,” Stephen says. “He doesn’t like it when you pour the eggs in the pan and it doesn’t make the right sound.”

I’ve been in the same boat with our 9-year-old Owen. He loves fried eggs, and the biggest lesson is getting the correct pan temperature (especially as we upgraded from an electric to a gas range last summer), and then learning the proper timing to flip an egg carefully and cook it just right to keep the yolk soft.

I’ve made it a mission for our boys to love soft scrambled eggs. Not only do we learn how milk, cream, or butter changes textures, but also how timing and handling affect the final result. Likewise, learning the difference between soft- and hard-boiled eggs has been a lesson in waiting for the water to boil, then timing the eggs just right.

Eggs present an easy hosting moment

Teaching kids to cook, even with entry-level egg recipes, imparts a lifelong love of sharing food with others. I’ve loved that our boys know how to scramble, fry, and hard-boil eggs, making them for friends on sleepovers or for visiting family.

Parker shares that her son learning to cook breakfast became a way for him to serve others. “It was a chance for him to show off,” she says. “When he got to spend time with grandparents again, he offered to cook them an omelet … I’ve told Evan, ‘I’m going to teach you my pancake recipe, and then when you go to college you can make pancakes for everyone and they’ll love you.’”

Eggs go in nearly everything!

For Kelley, learning how to make omelets and quiche teaches multiple skills, from the art of whisking to the nature of eggs to how other ingredients interact. “We do a seven- or eight-egg omelet with my daughter,” Kelley says. “I teach her that not all eggs are created equal. Any egg could vary how big a yolk they have or how much protein is in the egg. So that teaches you the ratio if you’re cooking or baking.”

Kelley also uses the dishes to teach how heavy cream or half-and-half makes the egg mixture more luscious. They’ll also select the right cheese. “I find Gruyere is a little polarizing with the kids,” she laughs. Likewise, she’ll demonstrate the need to cook down additions like spinach or red peppers so your quiche won’t be wet and floppy, and how the eggs puff up and then deflate when cooking and cooling. “That’s our weekly foray into quiche,” Kelley says. “We’re venturing into frittatas, but we’re not quite there yet.”

And of course, there are endless applications: layering fried eggs on toast or in sandwiches, soft-boiled eggs going into ramen or on black bean soup, scrambled eggs in burritos.

Teaching Owen how to poach eggs explores more attention-consuming techniques. And maybe soon we’ll finally perfect a good hollandaise.

Parker started Evan with omelets and then moved onto composing breakfast sandwiches, a family specialty. “That was one of the first things I learned to make,” she says. “Dan makes really good breakfast sandwiches, too. Evan’s are just as good as ours.”

Credit: Shutterstock

Savor the time together

Regardless of how your egg-ventures play out, the important thing we’ve all found is the time spent in the kitchen as a family.

“My mantra is: Food is love,” says Kelley. “It brings us together in a way. Kids will want to eat it if they help create it.” Kelley also owned a travel company, and believes that food creates a strong sense of place: “I have so many food memories that put me in a place. Food connects us with people, strangers, family.”

Parker agrees: “During the pandemic, we started exploring some different restaurants, different cuisines, recipes. It’s fun when you can have a new experience together.”

Stephen Swanson shares how cooking naturally invites face-time. “Because you have to wait it’s a natural place to have other conversations,” he explains, “because you’re standing there waiting for the grilled cheese to toast up or the pan to get hot. The past few years we’ve heard about the car line or school drop off conversations. I haven’t had that as much as kitchen time — I can ask them, ‘What music should we put on, what do you think of that show we’re watching?’”

“It’s a natural time to be together without it feeling forced,” Jenna adds. “You’re actively doing something. It doesn’t feel like I’m tricking you into a conversation. It’s a natural progression. We’re in the same room, doing this task together, conversations just happen.”