Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Cooking with Kids

Cooking with Kids
In the old days, many of us learned to cook from our parents. But in this busy, convenience-driven, modern world, much home cooking has gone by the wayside. We'll look at fun and healthy ways to cook with your kids.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Memories of cooking in the kitchen with mom, and sometimes dad, can leave lasting impressions. Kids see eggs and flour become cake, see raw vegetables become stew, and get caught up in the whole culinary experience. But there's no question that it takes time, patience, a watchful eye, and a high tolerance for messiness for parents to manage that experience. Today on our monthly food segment, we're talking about how to introduce kids to cooking, and talking about some of your favorite memories of learning to cook. I’d like to welcome my guests. Caron Golden is food columnist for and author of the blog San Diego Foodstuff. Caron, welcome.

CARON GOLDEN (Food Columnist): Thanks. It’s always fun to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Yes. And Michelle Cox is program coordinator for Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center in National City. Michelle, welcome.


MICHELLE COX (Program Coordinator, Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center): Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Now we’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. We’re talking about cooking with your kids. But do you remember when you first learned to cook? Tell us about that experience. And when did you decide to get your kids into the kitchen? You can call us at 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Caron, I’m going to start with you. How old were you when you learned how to cook?

GOLDEN: Well, actually I think my first memory, period, in life is of my dad holding me over the stove and teaching me how to make scrambled eggs. So I probably was about three, maybe four…


GOLDEN: …at the time. And – But we were always in the kitchen. I mean, it was just what we did. Both of my parents are wonderful cooks and my grandmothers were excellent cooks. My dad comes from a family of – that had a catering hall in New York. And so he learned how to make appetizers when he would go there after school, and they taught him all sorts of interesting little tricks that he ended up using for dinner parties when I was growing up, and is a good basic cook. My mom adores cooking. Collected cookbooks like crazy. And so my sister, brother and I were always expected to cook, and that was the other part of it, was it was fun and it was something she was passionate about but it was also as important as making beds and vacuuming and dusting and everything else. If you were part of the family, you had to help make dinner, you had to help make lunch, whatever.


CAVANAUGH: That was a responsibility.

GOLDEN: And that was part of the responsibility and part of learning how to take care of yourself.

CAVANAUGH: Michelle, tell us what you remember about learning to cook.

COX: Well, I would say my first memories come from gardening and eating right out of the garden. My parents were big gardeners, and just pulling a snap pea off the vine and eating that and tasting that. And so not only was cooking a part of our life but what we harvested, we cooked. I remember pulling corn off the vine and throwing it right into the pot and having that corn there was fantastic. And my mom was a bit of a health nut so I remember, I was probably four or five, making granola with her. And it was just an epiphany…

CAVANAUGH: That’s great.

COX: …that it didn’t come out of a box, you know.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, uh-huh.

COX: We were actually making it from raw oats and honey and so that’s one of my memories with her. And, you know, the cake and eggs and flour, the magic of the cinnamon buns coming out of the oven or my sister and I being old enough to actually have the responsibility of getting to make the banana bread on our own. It was somewhat of a rite of passage that it was passed on to us as a responsibility.

CAVANAUGH: Well, my mom was a big Betty Crocker person, so I do remember, you know, making cakes with her and making cookies, you know, just out of the box, you know, and that was a lot of fun. I wonder if you have some memories of maybe outdoor cooking? Did you learn how to barbeque or anything like that?

GOLDEN: Not any – You know what, it’s funny. My dad was the grill guy but not so much. I mean, I – We did it, and I have my own grill and I think women should be out there with their own grills and making, you know, wonderful barbeque or grilled foods but we didn’t do a lot of that. Most of our stuff – our experiences were indoor. You know, we were a nice Jewish suburban family.

COX: Well, we were actually lucky enough to spend an extended time in Spain growing up so I remember at about five or six actually pulling baby octopus out of the ocean and I had a brother who was quite a bit older who would throw the rice in the paella pan and start a fire on the beach, and we’re bring in the rice and the rabbit would go into it, not chicken, and whatever we got out of the ocean.


COX: And I just, you know, being so connected out there and it just tasted so much better than anything I’d ever had.

CAVANAUGH: It sounds like it. We’re taking you calls at 1-888-895-5727. We’re talking about cooking with your kids and just starting off remembering the first time you were in the kitchen learning how to cook and what experiences you might have to share with us. Let’s hear from Mark calling us from Spring Valley. Good morning, Mark. Welcome to These Days.

MARK (Caller, Spring Valley): Hi.


MARK: Thanks for the chance to talk. If you are stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan and you’re eating MREs and mess hall food and – there’s nothing like getting a hook up with someone who can cook and getting some ingredients. And I’ll never forget I acquired some ground beef and zucchini and some onions, something my dad would make for me as a kid, cooked it up, gave it to my buddies, and they were like, wow, this is great. You know, and I was just like a housewife. I’m, really? You like it? And it was something my dad taught and that smell made me feel like I was home. And I’ll never forget it, very graphic, vivid realization that the food that my dad made made me feel good.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you, Mark, for that, sharing that memory with us. I remember – it has nothing, you know, it’s very small in comparison with Mark’s memory but I remember going to Girl Scout camp and we had this thing called a buddy burner, which was basically a Bunsen burner. And we would cook little strips of bacon on it, and eggs, and I was – remember being absolutely fascinated that, look, oh, my goodness, look, this is actually working. You can actually make this stuff and you can eat it for breakfast. I mean, it was – it was a revelation. So out in the world, you didn’t even have to be in the kitchen. You could cook anywhere.

GOLDEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, that’s the beauty of fire. Aren’t we grateful?

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Laura is calling us from Oceanside. Good morning, Laura, and welcome to These Days.

LAURA (Caller, Oceanside): Good morning. Thank you. I just wanted to stress that all family members actually can be working with the kids. I do cooking segments with my nephew. He’s seven years old, his name is Cooper. And when the nephews come and stay with me, he can’t wait to cook something. And I’m vegetarian, been a vegetarian for 17 years and going vegan, so it’s also my way of also talking to him about your diet. And he loves to have these segments videotaped so, of course, then we show them back to the family.

CAVANAUGH: That’s a wonderful modern way to do it. Thank you for your call, Laura. Okay, so what are some of the basic steps to take when you’re starting to teach your kids to cook, Caron?

GOLDEN: Well, I think one of the first things—and my mom was really good at this—is it didn’t have to be in the kitchen. We had to go to the market with her, probably because she didn’t want to get a babysitter, and so we had to schlep along and, you know, we didn’t love it. But one of the things that she did was give us bags and say this is what we’re having tonight so you need to go get apples, you need to go get some mushrooms, you need – and then she would look and she would show us how to pick, you know, vegetables and fruits that were right and appropriate and we would go into the other aisles and, you know, we would be assigned to go and get things. So we were learning to read, we were learning about fruits and vegetables and what made them, you know, what they were supposed to look like and feel like and smell like. And so that was an introduction to basic ingredients. And maybe she wasn’t even aware that she was doing this, but it was an education. Inside, once we got in the house, I mean, there are lots of things that you can do with even very small children. Baking cookies is a wonderful thing because, truly, you don’t need to be using knives or anything. You can – If they’re too young to measure things out, you can help them measure things out, help them actually get the ingredients into a bowl or at least near a bowl. They can start stirring. They can start getting – using their motor skills for that. And, yes, you’re probably going to need a stool and you’re going to need lots of towels and you’re going to need a lot of patience, but those are some first ways to do it. And then like what my dad did with me, holding me and helping me scrambled (sic) eggs, was I near – allowed to be near the stove as very young child, no. But being supervised? Yeah, you can do a lot of those things. And gradually your child is going to feel comfortable and confident. And as they get larger and more adept at doing things, they can be more independent.

CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting. Now Caron’s experience started in the grocery store. I have a feeling that yours might have started in the garden, Michelle.

GOLDEN: Or the beach or the mountains.

COX: Yeah, no, it did start in the garden. But I have an eight-year-old and speaking to the grocery store, I had to laugh this morning. I pulled out my purse and my shopping list is in it. It’s her most favorite thing to do, is to tell me what to get. She gets to kind of boss mom around there and it reinforces her reading skills. So, yeah, I think there’s so many ways to get kids involved, and it’s not just in the kitchen. It’s at the grocery store, it’s in the garden.

GOLDEN: Or the farmer – I’m saying grocery store but farmer’s market.

COX: Well, yeah, grocery store.

GOLDEN: We did have a garden, and we grew radishes and we grew a little bit of corn and we had some fruit trees. And I remember when I was about seven or eight, I think, we were learning how to make jam. It wasn’t something we repeated a lot. I think it was a huge undertaking and…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, sounds like it.

GOLDEN: …but we had a whole lot of fruit and so we…


GOLDEN: …tried to do that. My mom was a – is a huge baker and so we did a lot of basic stuff and we used a lot of the packaged stuff, too, the Betty Crocker type stuff, too. It was easy to be able to do that. And, you know, and it was fun to be able to show that you could do something on your own and show it off in terms of, you know, the rest of the family or the extended family for a party.

CAVANAUGH: Caron, talked to us about the fun of beginning, starting out maybe making cookies. What are some other things, Michelle, that perhaps really young kids can start working with in the kitchen?

COX: Well, I think that so many kids love to play in the kitchen, so to make it play-based, my colleague Amy at the International Community Foundation has a two-year-old and a four-year-old and she does what she calls simultaneous cooking with them. She puts out a towel on the floor, and they get their own kitchen equipment and she sends them to get water maybe one inch at a time to fill up the pot, so it keeps them busy and engaged the entire time that she’s cooking. I actually made jam this weekend with my daughter. We went to Suzie’s Farms and picked strawberries and I grew up canning and preserving and eating seasonal.

GOLDEN: Of course you did.

COX: But I don’t can and do preserves at home. I’m a working mom. That’s a big undertaking. We did freezer jam. And my daughter was so excited. She was giving it away to our neighbor kids as birthday presents. It went to the little girl down the street for her 12th birthday, some freezer jam Cerise had made. So I think that there’s some modern takes on recipes…


COX: …that you can simplify them for your kids.

GOLDEN: Yeah, I’m not a big bread machine person because I like to just do my own breads but the bread machine can be a working parent’s best friend because then you do get to actually make bread with your kid and have something fresh but it’s not going to be as time consuming or labor intensive maybe as making it, you know, without the machine.

CAVANAUGH: What are the signs that kids might be ready to start making things in the kitchen? I know that, you know, when kids are actually still playing with their food, that’s a little bit difficult but what would you say, Michelle, would – you should look for that, you know, it’s time. They’re responsible enough, they might be able to actually enjoy putting a little water in a pot…

COX: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …and all of that.

COX: Well, my girlfriend Cynthia, she’s a great auntie, no kids of her own but all the kids in her family and friends’ kids, at five years old, it’s a rite of passage. They get own knife and their own cutting board.


COX: And so that’s a rite of passage for the kids. And for myself, I just remember feeling so privileged to get to make the banana bread, that that was a responsibility I got. So I’d say about five years old is a really good age to start to step up in some responsibilities, you know, and start with the basic techniques and the knife safety and how to use a shredder. And this way you have kids that can actually fend for themselves when Carl’s Jr.’s closes or, you know, they can do something besides order takeout.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. We have to take a short break. When we return, I want to talk more about safety in the kitchen when kids are learning how to cook and handle food. We’re also taking your calls about your own memories of learning to cook or talking about cooking in the kitchen with your kids. 1-888-895-5727. We will take a short break and return. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I’m Maureen Cavanaugh. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Caron Golden, food columnist for, author of the blog San Diego Foodstuff. And Michelle Cox is program coordinator for Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center in National City. We’re talking about cooking with your kids, and we’re asking you for your experiences about learning to cook or learning to teach your kids to cook. The number is 1-888-895-5727. Let’s go to the phones right now and speak with Paul in San Diego. Good morning, Paul. Welcome to These Days.

PAUL (Caller, San Diego): Hi.


PAUL: Oh, you want to know about my experience.

CAVANAUGH: I do, indeed.

PAUL: Okay. The first time I ever cooked anything was in my mid-twenties. I was married to a German girl, a very German girl, a Nazi.


PAUL: Her cooking repertoire consisted of sauerbraten, something called – I forget, wienerschnitzel with an egg on it and…


PAUL: Yes?

CAVANAUGH: You didn’t learn – you didn’t start to cook until your mid-twenties because nobody taught you how to cook when you were a child?

PAUL: No, no one taught me how to cook.

CAVANAUGH: And was that because you were a boy?

PAUL: It was because no one taught me how to cook. I don’t know why. They never told me.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for your call. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it. I don’t know what Paul’s life was – married life was. We’re not going there. But this is an interesting subject about boys in the kitchen, too. I mean, this should be gender neutral, this learning to cook thing.

GOLDEN: Yeah. I got the funniest note from a friend of mine this morning after I put a resource post up on San Diego Foodstuff, and she was telling me about her husband who was one of five sons and the mother decide – mother was, you know, it was in the fifties and she was going to be, you know, the perfect housewife. And like many women of that time, decided that, you know, she didn’t need to teach her kids, particularly her sons, how to cook. So what my friend has is a husband who had to be rushed to the emergency room because he decided to cook a potato, to bake a potato in the microwave for 15 minutes and then pull it out with his bare hands.


COX: Wow.

GOLDEN: So, really, parents, you’re not doing your kids any favors by, you know, not teaching them kitchen skills. And this is a lot – we see this a lot, I think, among working parents who feel that the least they can do if they’re not home with their kids is to cook for them. And, in fact, you’re probably better off, yeah, cooking for them but also encouraging their kids to start developing some kitchen skills so at least for safety’s sake.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, indeed.

GOLDEN: And also for social sake. I mean, you don’t want someone who’s a mooch because they can’t make their own meals and certainly, you know, that’s a possibility as, you know, they get into college and are older that, you know, they can’t contribute in some way.

CAVANAUGH: I think one of the ways, Michelle, to really engage boys in cooking is to sort of take it from the garden into the kitchen the way that you’re talking about.

COX: Right, absolutely. And there’s so many – with Food TV, so many positive male role models…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah, umm-hmm.

COX: …in the kitchen that I think that boys don’t view it generally as traditionally a woman’s role especially, you know, most kids come from working families, moms and dads are both contributing a lot of times.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Anita is calling us from Encinitas. Good morning, Anita. Welcome to These Days.

ANITA (Caller, Encinitas): …morning. Thank you. Well, I’m a stay at home mom and I have a four-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son, and we cook on a daily basis together. And it’s super, super valuable to all of us. We have a big garden and the kids don’t really know much about the store because it’s not fun to take them there but they very frequently go out to the garden and get the lettuce and the carrots, and they make the lettuce themselves, you know, rip it up and clean it.


ANITA: And then I’ll let them peel the vegetables and sometimes cut it if I’m in a patient mood. And then we bake bread pretty much every day with the bread machine. We have a very healthy whole wheat nine-grain bread recipe that everyone loves so much that we make it every day. And they know all the names of the different grains. They know how to measure them at three and four because we do it every day. And then when we make applesauce, they learn about fractions by cutting the apple in a half and a quarter. And when we make – and then we make freezer jam also because it actually tastes better, in my opinion. And then…

CAVANAUGH: Anita, let me ask you a question. Are you concerned – I think you’re – you said your kids are three and four. Are you concerned about them being around sharp knives and hot stoves? How do you handle that?

ANITA: Actually, the hot stove, not so – I don’t let them go around that too much but the sharp knives, I just have to stand directly over them and show them the proper way to cut by pushing their fingers back, you know, and then be pretty much my hand almost on their hand, ready to intervene but otherwise – and they know. They know about sharp knives, they know what they are. They know how to handle them. They know how to walk with sharp scissors. They know they’re not allowed to unless Mommy’s there. So that’s not a big deal. The stove does freak me out a little, so we kind of stay away from that.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, thank you for the call, Anita. I really appreciate it. You know, part of cooking is getting cut, your fingers cut.

GOLDEN: You do get cut, and you’re going to get injured and you just have to teach the skills but, you know, very high caliber chefs are still cutting themselves and stuff, too.

CAVANAUGH: Certainly. Oh, yeah.

GOLDEN: But, yeah, you have to always monitor the kids, particularly the youngest ones. They have to know that they can’t be allowed near knives. I would say that, you know, don’t have a knife drawer at a young age. I remember my little brother getting into the knife drawer. If you can put them above in a knife block where they can’t reach it or, even better, the way Julia Child used to have hers like on, you know, either metallic or, you know, one of those pegboards.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, right.

GOLDEN: You know, that’s really – you want to keep them as far away from the littlest ones as possible. But, you know, but there are going to be accidents. You talk about a grater, you know, Michelle and I were talking, yeah, there are things that we forget about but one of the things we have to remember with kids is remind them that as they get down to the edge of the – the end of the piece of vegetable or fruit that they could end up, you know, grating their fingers, too.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

GOLDEN: So you need to teach them all those skills and that’s just part of it.

CAVANAUGH: Michelle, what are some other safety tips that people should remember as they introduce their children to cooking?

COX: As they introduce their children to cooking, of course, the basic knife safety and the equipment but to stay back from the stove, that anything boiling or sautéing should sit on the back of the stove. And then teach your kids if they get injured, how they need to deal with it immediately. Yeah, you can yell and cry but if you’ve burned yourself, turn on the cold water and stick your hand under it. So, I think having a first aid kit when you’re cooking with kids nearby is a good idea because they do get hurt.


COX: But, you know, teaching the knife holding techniques and pulling the fingers back from the grater, that’s very, very important.

GOLDEN: And make sure you have stable surfaces…

COX: Right.

GOLDEN: …for them, too, and stable, you know, if you’re going to put a kid on a chair or a stool that, you know, they’re not wiggling around, that they need to be sort of solidly centered where they are and have a space for them that – a workspace for them on the counter or on a table that is secure so that they – things aren’t going to go sliding. You know, we have those lovely little thin plastic cutting mats now that you can use but, you know, one false move and that thing can go flying.

COX: That’s true.

GOLDEN: So you really need to be able to anchor things so that, you know, kids are secure and safe.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls on cooking with your kids. 1-888-895-5727, is the number to call to join the conversation. Ron is calling us from El Cajon. And good morning, Ron. Welcome to These Days.

RON (Caller, El Cajon): Oh, thank you. Well, I had a experience a couple days ago. I was babysitting my granddaughter who’s not quite two and at Easter time, of course, she learned to like boiled eggs. So we were going to boil some eggs. And it was just basically just letting her watch how eggs boil and how they come out. But it was also a opportunity to show her as the pot was getting warm that it gets hot, and so when I’m around the stove and I say be careful, it’s hot, she has a, you know, she knows what that means now. But then she knows – she watched the water boil, she watched it get hot, and then we peeled the egg and she enjoyed eating an egg.

CAVANAUGH: That’s a wonderful thing. Thank you, Ron. That’s a wonderful total experience to learn what hot is and then, oh, and there’s an egg. I wonder if, indeed, this whole process could help kids who are picky eaters to expand their food repertoire a little bit, Caron.

GOLDEN: Well, one of the great things that I’ve been introduced to is Olivewood Gardens. And we actually haven’t had Michelle explain what this place is all about.

CAVANAUGH: Right, umm-hmm.

GOLDEN: I’m going to let her do that but basically I’ve been able to go down and do cooking classes with fourth, fifth and sixth graders in the neighborhood. And when they asked me to do this, one of the things that they do—and this is for all of the volunteers, and they get a lot of wonderful visiting chefs who come in—but we’re given a list of what’s growing in the garden there and so the idea is to try and use ingredients from the garden. So at the time when I first did it, it was a lot of root vegetables and zucchini because it was the end of winter, beginning of spring. And what in the world are you going to do with root vegetables? I didn’t even want to go there. And you had 25 minutes to do it per class.


GOLDEN: So I decided to make zucchini pancakes. And I told some friends and they – who have kids around that age and they said, well, good luck with that…


GOLDEN: …because I don’t think my kids – they may be delicious but my kids would never try it. And we made them and there was a lot that went into it in terms of, you know, discovering children didn’t know how to crack eggs and didn’t know how to beat eggs. They got to grate zucchini, they got to do all these different things, and they take ownership of it. And they do have a wonderful ‘no, thank you’ rule there which is that if you don’t like something, fine, but at least you have to try at least a bite and then you can say ‘no, thank you’ after that. We had, I think, out of 60 kids…

COX: Umm-hmm.

GOLDEN: …2 or 3 who just refused. The rest of them ate it and not only that but they – we had a couple little boys who at the very end of the program came running in, asking if we had any left over so they could take home to their brother – brothers or their moms or whomever. And so you think, okay, this is zucchini…


GOLDEN: …you know? And we had another experience with cauliflower…


GOLDEN: …that we ended up, I guess the – that was ended up named ‘famous white soup,’ because if you name it cauliflower, the kids won’t eat it.


GOLDEN: But if you call it ‘white soup,’ so it’s branding, it’s marketing. But, by and large, I think there are a lot of – unless kids absolutely detest something—and we all have our things, I won’t eat beets, don’t make me—but I think most kids, if you give them the opportunity to make a dish based on nutritious foods, they’re going to eat it because they’ve taken ownership of it and it’s no longer repellant to them. And I think that’s a great thing for people to keep in mind.

CAVANAUGH: And, Michelle, is, indeed, that the concept of Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center?

COX: It is. It’s a garden enhanced nutrition education program so the ICF, the International Community Foundation, and the Resource Conservation District has partnered to bring students from National School District in and they do three activities per field trip, two active gardening and one cooking rotation, and they’re caring for these plants, they’re watching them grow, they’re harvesting them, and then they’re bringing them into the kitchen. So we had kids eating – Chef Amy DiBiase, who did the cauliflower soup, and it’s a learning experience for us. It was that cream of cauliflower soup and the second time it was her special white soup, but we had sixth grade girls with Susan Sbicca from Sbicca’s Del Mar making individual shepherd’s pies lined with cauliflower leaves with root vegetables topped with rutabagas. And I thought, I don’t know if they’re going to eat it. They loved it. It was fantastic. And they had that pride in ownership not only of working in the garden with these but to actually be able to sit down and make this for themselves and their classmates. The kids have just been eating an astounding array of foods.

CAVANAUGH: That’s fascinating.

GOLDEN: Yeah, and not only that but, you know, part of the process of it is in talking with the kids, so let’s say we don’t have zucchini or we don’t have rutabaga, what else – what could you do to make this dish but make it in a different way so that they’re also thinking about not just following a strict recipe but being flexible enough to bring in other fruits or vegetables to make a similar kind of dish. And so now it’s a creative exercise as well. And you wouldn’t believe the things that they suggest, that they think are absolutely fabulous and I wouldn’t be surprised if they took the recipe home and tried to make a zucchini pancake with apples instead, or bananas or potatoes, obviously. You know, but it was great to have them just – like you could see their minds just opening up to possibilities that, you know, in a canned food and frozen food world, may not have existed before.

CAVANAUGH: And there’s something also very startling that you said earlier, fifth and sixth graders don’t know how to crack an egg.

GOLDEN: Well, that, you know, that’s one of those things that, again, parents – Well, we should say – acknowledge, too, that there may well be parents who don’t cook and don’t know…

CAVANAUGH: Certainly, yeah.

GOLDEN: …how to do any of these either, which is why – You know, the wonderful thing is there are cooking classes around town that you can take your kids to. Many of them are parent and kid classes and so, you know, it might be an opportunity for a parent to learn some basic cooking skills, too, and do it with their child. I think this is really important. The other thing is that all of us have family traditions, whether we are Hispanic or German or Jewish or, you know, what, Asian, whatever. We have family dishes that are traditional and that we’re going to lose those traditions if they’re not passed down. And it’s really, I think, a wonderful thing and an important thing to pass – be able to show kids how to make the things that your grandmother made that her mother made and keep those things going and alive as well.

CAVANAUGH: Michelle, you wanted to add something?

COX: Well, I – Speaking about parents cooking, the day we were doing the cauliflower soup, Julie Darling, who coordinated all of these fantastic volunteers for us, sat down with one of the mammas, and all the kids take a recipe home with them and the mom said, I don’t know how to make soup. I’ve never made it. And Julie gave her the basic soup recipe and said, if we don’t have cauliflower, we could do broccoli, we could do root vegetables, we could do carrots, and that mom left with one simple recipe and five ideas to make dinner.

CAVANAUGH: Very interesting. Let’s take a call. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Ruth is on the line from Encinitas. Good morning, Ruth. Welcome to These Days.

RUTH (Caller, Encinitas): Thank you so much for taking my call. I wanted to call because I, like many of the women, who have called, put my kids up on the kitchen counter when they were very, very young and gave them the bowl of brownies to stir and everything. And we used to make something called – every several months, something called – what I called a compilation, which was giving them the tail end of the oatmeal box and the leftovers of this, that and the other and my oldest son mishearing the word called it a complication, which in many ways it was. But anyway, they were allowed to sort of just mix all this stuff together, then they got a real commodity was an egg, and they would beg to get an egg to put in there and I’d give them food color and so they just got this sense of what it was like to mix things together. Sometimes we’d try to bake it, see what happened. Of course, it was inedible but it was fun for them to be able to do that. And I just wanted to – and actually my youngest son, I have two boys and a girl, so all three of them sat up on the counter with me and we made things together. And I wanted to report that my youngest son, who’s 18, is off to the Culinary Arts School in Hyde Park, New York in the fall, and so it paid off.

CAVANAUGH: That complication paid off.

RUTH: The complication paid off, and he’s delighted and excited and cannot wait to get there. And I have just – if you’ve got time, I’ve got one quick other antidote (sic) how cooking works in any number of ways. When we – my daughter was in high school, we hosted French kids that came over for her school and we would have them several weeks in the house and we had one gal who came one year who was just so incredibly shy and we could not bring her out in any way, shape or form. We tried to take her to the beach and do any number of things and I finally thought, let’s just cook. We don’t really have to talk but…


RUTH: …we’re doing something together. And we brought her down there and we started, you know, I said, let’s make soup. And gave everybody a vegetable and everybody a knife and everybody a, you know, cutting board, and just started chopping. And it, you know what, she still remained very shy but it brought her out and began to, you know, she began to be able to talk about what kind of soups her mom made and, you know, what their traditions were and everything.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you.

RUTH: So it was just a very nice – very nice…

CAVANAUGH: Ruth, thank you so much. Thank you for sharing those stories with us. We were just talking around the table here about how cooking at home might actually be a very good way to get some conversation going with a teenager, you know, who is not necessarily forthcoming with what’s going on during the day but just standing around and cooking might be a way to facilitate some conversation. We have to take a short break. When we return, we will continue to talk about cooking with your kids, and taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Caron Golden and Michelle Cox, and we’re talking about cooking with kids. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You know, as we discuss this there are some people, of course, who just are too busy. They don’t have any time to cook. They don’t have any time to cook or teach their kids how to cook. And, Caron, you were talking – talk to us once again about these cooking classes that are around for parents and their kids.

GOLDEN: Yeah. There’s a lot of things going on. First, we should say that there are a number of elementary schools that are pairing up with different organizations to bring in chefs and there are chefs who are actually being assigned as the school chef and so you’re going to see some cooking classes there. One school is the Albert Einstein Academy, and they have Ricardo Heredia of Alchemy who is cooking over there and doing classes. And there is – there are some really terrific little classes. The Captain Cook’s Culinary Academy which, of course, is in Carlsbad. But they’re an actually a mobile cooking school…


GOLDEN: …so you can have them come to your own facility, you can have them come to your home, you could book them for a party, and they’ll teach kids how to make kid-friendly and usually organic, natural, you know, dishes with no – organic and natural ingredients. There’s something that our friend Julie Darling is doing this summer through the Camp Science Safari. It’s called Camp Culinary Creations and they are partnering with local chefs with culinary schools and hotels and restaurants, and using Julie Darling’s kitchen in Clairemont. She has a catering company. And they will be doing one of a kind cooking classes and taking kids to different – to farms and to hotel kitchens…


GOLDEN: …and all sorts of things. Then there’s Mira Costa College, which has something called College for Kids and they have hands-on cooking classes in the summer that also address nutrition and the history and culture of different foods. Great News, a lot of us love to take cooking classes at Great News in Pacific Beach. They often have cooking classes that you can take with your kids. They call it Calling All Kids. The next one is the end of June for Independence Day. It’s – They’re going to be making picnic dishes.

CAVANAUGH: And, Caron, people can find a full list…

GOLDEN: Yeah, I’ve got a whole list on and you can take a look, it’s – there’s a surprising number of them.

CAVANAUGH: That’s fabulous.


CAVANAUGH: 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. We’re going to go to another phone call now. Kyle is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Kyle. Welcome to These Days.

KYLE (Caller, San Diego): Hello. Thank you for taking my call. I just want to preface this with the audience that I’m 19 and I’ve grown up my whole life always loving to watch like Food Network and I kind of grew up during the height of it and would always, you know, watch Iron Chef and Good Eats and all those really great shows that just got me so into cooking. And I grew up with my – just my dad and my grandma and aunt. And I would grow up and I would almost hate my grandma’s food. I was a very picky eater. And over time, when I continued watching the shows, I really learned to cook for myself, so all these things about ownership and getting in the kitchen and trying new things and all that is very true. I mean, it’s like describing my life.


KYLE: It fits perfectly.

CAVANAUGH: Well, fabulous. Thank you for sharing that with us, Kyle. I’m wondering if – if we – if kids can have too much responsibility, though, in the kitchen if they are asked to cook over and over and over again. Do you ever hear about that, Michelle?

COX: In a lot of single parent homes, it is the responsibility of the oldest child. My mother comes from a large family and the girls were older and they cooked and cleaned and took care of the little kids and were really resentful about it, so I think that it should be a family activity, not just an assigned chore. You – It’s much more meaningful if it’s time you can spend together doing something.

CAVANAUGH: And if it’s fun.

COX: And if it’s fun, exactly. Making it fun is so important.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Bianca’s calling from Oceanside. Good morning, Bianca. Welcome to These Days.

BIANCA (Caller, Oceanside): Good morning. Thanks for having me on the show today.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

BIANCA: I am a Waldorf Lifeways teacher in Oceanside and (audio dropout) a preschool program that I work with for children ages zero to five.


BIANCA: And we – our whole curriculum really focuses around food culture because it’s really how we celebrate as human beings, it’s how we court one another, it’s how we celebrate festivals and birthdays, so we – at our preschool, we have an organic (audio dropout) and we work with the children making tortillas and homemade bread, all of this food is (audio dropout) and they start as little as two years old.


BIANCA: They learn how to set a table and actually sit at a table for an entire meal and enjoy that together. So it’s really the basis of a Waldorf Early Childhood curriculum and I’m thrilled to be bringing it to children so young…

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank…

BIANCA: …in north county.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for the call. And that brings up a topic that we haven’t talked about and that is displaying the food, setting the table, putting the – how…

GOLDEN: I think it’s all part of the whole package. And that was – We rotated in our family. You know, you either set the table or you made the salad or you made, you know, helped make the actual, you know, bigger dinner. Clean-up was always an interesting issue but we won’t go there. I don’t want to embarrass my family. But, you know, all of that is part of it also, and I hadn’t really thought about it until she just mentioned it: table manners. Because I can’t tell you how many kids I see who really have no idea how to hold a knife and fork, cut with a knife and fork. You know, these are things that, as they get older and they’re in social situations, will serve them well. Unfortunately, we live in a fast food era and we eat a lot of things with our hands now and so a lot of kids who, you know, a generation or so ago would sit around a table and eat a meal with knives – with cutlery and all of that really need to have those skills still.


GOLDEN: And learning how to set a table is a really nice thing to be able to – it’s a gift you can give to your kids so that they don’t, you know, that they can do things as they are older, entertain people, and just have, you know, basic, you know, dining skills.

CAVANAUGH: Right. How do you present? How is food presented at Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center?

COX: The kids actively cook and right now we’re eating at the kitchen bar area. But as our program develops and expands the next school year, it’s going to include gathering flowers from the gardens. We’re going to have conversation points with the students. We will teach them how to set a table, those basic knife and fork skills because that is something that I have realized so many kids are missing. They’re, you know, either eating on the way to sports practice, they’re eating something with their hands, and they’ve lost those table manners. So that’s going to be a very important part of our program is the conversational skills, and the presentation of the food is so much. Those of us that are foodies, I think realize that naturally. But if it looks pretty and you’ve put some work into it, your child’s more likely to eat it.

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. John’s calling us from Bonita. Good morning, John. Welcome to These Days.

JOHN (Caller, Bonita): …morning. Thank you for taking my call. I just want to pay respect to my late mom. She would be 93 years old today. And she taught my sister and me to cook, and she started out by canning…


JOHN: …apricots, peaches, pears. We’re talking about the mid-forties…


JOHN: …the late forties. And she had a rule that I still follow today regarding nutrition. I eat, for dinner, one green vegetable and one color vegetable plus a protein. And she could whip up anything on the spur of the moment and this was after she had driven 44 miles round trip to and from work where she worked a split shift, and this is before there was a microwave or…

CAVANAUGH: That is amazing.

JOHN: …and I remember when Duncan Heinz came out with their cake mixes. Mom said, aw, mine’s better than that. And she’s right, it was…

CAVANAUGH: Well, happy birthday. Happy belated birthday to your mom, and thank you for sharing your experiences with us, John. I want to ask both of you if you could give us an idea of what it is that somebody absolutely needs how to do when it – in the kitchen before they go out in the world, before they go to college, before they start their, you know, have their own apartment. What is it, what techniques, what do they need to do to survive?

GOLDEN: Well, unless you’re a vegetarian, you should know how to roast chicken. You don’t even have to know how to roast a whole chicken. People find that intimidating. But they sell chicken parts. You can, you know, learn how to roast and bake a chicken. You should probably be able to know how to make soups and stews, which are so easy. I mean, honestly, it’s a matter of chopping up things and stirring them in a pot over heat. I mean, that’s pretty much it.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I was going to – I was thinking you were going to say you have to learn how to boil water, you have to learn how…

GOLDEN: Oh, well, you want to go that basic. Okay, yes.

CAVANAUGH: You have to learn how to crack an egg.

GOLDEN: Oh, okay, so, okay, some of the very youngest things.


GOLDEN: Let’s talk about some of the things that we’re teaching at Olivewood.


GOLDEN: Yeah, we’re teaching kids how to crack eggs and beat eggs. We’re teaching them how to measure ingredients. We’re teaching them how to read recipes. That can be a real stumbling block for a lot of people. We’re teaching them comfort with various utensils that they’re going to come across. And I think if you can do that, then – and you can read a recipe and understand what those terms mean, then all the rest of it will fall into place because then it’s a matter of just reading and following directions.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

GOLDEN: But, yeah, absolutely, yes, boiling water is a big thing.

COX: Right, and the basics, the knife skills and…

GOLDEN: The knife, yeah.

COX: …everything else but I think in addition to the preparation, how to compose a meal. Like our last caller just said, the protein and the different colored vegetables. I think that kids don’t have a good idea of what a balanced meal is with the protein and the carb and the vegetable and, you know, low fat, high fiber. I think that kids need to be more aware of what their nutrition is coming from the meal.

CAVANAUGH: So what you’ve told us today is a wide-ranging experience between children who are actually learning how to cook at their mother’s and father’s knee to those people who don’t know how to handle a knife or don’t know how to crack an egg by the time they go to college. So where – what can people – what can parents do to step in and make sure that their kids have the skills they need before they go out the door?

GOLDEN: Well, okay, I am not a parent, so Michelle can speak to a lot of things. People are really under the gun. So I think with most parents, if you’re going to stop doing the fast food thing, there’s got to be some thought put in maybe over the weekend to prep vegetables and fruits and other things so that you have menus and you have everything put together so that when you come home at night after a really busy day, all you’re doing at that point is pulling out different ingredients and creating the actual dish as opposed to taking the time to chop things up. We live in a society now in which we have so many expectations of what we should be doing with our time and the kids are overscheduled as it is, too, that it really is hard. So even if during the week you can’t do these things, maybe take some time over the weekend to have a family meal together that everyone pitches in and prepares.

CAVANAUGH: And, Michelle, we have about 30 seconds for your final wisdom.

COX: I would echo that as a full time working mom. The bread maker and the crock pot are your friends. We spend part of Saturday or Sunday doing food prep and menu planning. I’ve got my shopping list with this week’s menu on it right here in front of me.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you both so much, and thanks to everybody who called and shared their experiences either learning to cook or teaching their kids to cook. Caron Golden is food columnist for, author of the blog San Diego Foodstuff, where you can find a list of all of those cooking classes.

GOLDEN: And some cooking tips from local chefs as well.

CAVANAUGH: Fabulous. Thank you, Caron. And Michelle Cox, program coordinator for Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center in National City, thanks so much.

COX: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: If you’d like to comment online, please do, Thank you for listening. Join us again tomorrow, These Days on KPBS.

The child care industry has long been in crisis, and COVID-19 only made things worse. Now affordable, quality care is even more challenging to find, and staff are not paid enough to stay in the field. This series spotlights people each struggling with their own childcare issues, and the providers struggling to get by.