by Mike McHugh
Let’s face it, some areas of study are simply harder to complete in a home school environment. Subjects such as speech and lab science, for example, can be rather challenging for home educators to tackle. When it comes to the subject of cooking, however, most parents are in a great position to teach this critical skill to their students. For this reason, home school parents can and should begin to incorporate at least some basic instruction in the culinary arts when their children are young.
Before parents begin to provide cooking lessons for their children, they should have a basic set of goals in view. In simple terms, the teaching of cooking involves the three P’s:
Home educated students need to be taught that preparing meals is more than just throwing any old thing that is at hand in a pot. They need to comprehend why meals must be planned. Students need to be shown how to organize meals that are both delicious and nutritious, for they will likely not grasp this truth instinctively. Part of this teaching process involves showing children how to design a shopping list for a particular meal, and then actually including them in the trip to the grocery store in order to select the best ingredients. Before students can begin to design their own trips to the grocery store, however, they will need to be taught how to identify foods that are genuinely nutritious. Older students can eventually be given the opportunity to design meals on their own, and also be permitted to do all of the shopping necessary to procure what they need. Some families get to the point where they can place their older children in charge of some meals during each week. This type of goal can only be achieved, however, if students are taught the principles and practice of meal planning.
Instructing students in regard to meal preparation can only rightly begin after parents have assessed the specific maturity and skill level of each of their children. Actual meal preparation activities can only proceed safely and smoothly if they are approached in a manner that is appropriate to the age of the child. It need hardly be stated that very young or inexperienced children should not be directed to utilize sharp cooking implements until after they have been thoroughly instructed in their proper use. Such children, however, can still be called upon to do other less hazardous meal preparation activities. For example, parents can ask their young children to wash any fruits or vegetables that are to be used during the meal. This exercise is not only safe, but important, for youngsters need to understand that most store bought foods have potentially dangerous chemicals sprayed on them that must be washed off.
Time must also be taken by the instructor to educate students in regard to basic health and sanitation issues that naturally arise during meal preparation. If chicken or turkey is on the menu, parents should talk to their children about the dangers of bacteria like salmonella, or in the case of ground beef, E.coli. As usual, it is unwise to assume that even older children will instinctively know that it is unsafe to use the same knife that they have just cut the raw chicken with, to slice the loaf of bread that will be on the dinner table!
The fact that home school families spend so much time under the same roof, should give them an extra incentive to make meal times fun and extraordinary. Parent educators can help to spice up their meal presentation, by cooking certain foods that help to highlight a specific theme. This type of approach is already commonly employed by families during special holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas, where the baking and cooking activities help to highlight certain cherished traditions or themes. But why should meal time presentations only be fun and meaningful a few days out of the year? At least once a week, home educators could easily have a special dinner that showcases specific ethnic foods from around the world. One night could be “Mexican Night” complete with authentic Mexican cuisine, and table decorations and native costumes to help set the mood. The next week could be “Chinese Night”, or perhaps “Italian Night”, with plenty of interesting sidelights such as authentic games or music that originate from these cultures.
Regardless of the particular theme that parents choose to enhance their family’s dining experience, the main point is for students to see the importance of thoughtful and tasteful meal presentations. It is important for home school students to recognize that meal presentations are all about establishing a pleasant and interesting atmosphere for each member of the family to enjoy.
Parents who are less experienced cooks, may be wise to invest in an organized cooking or home economics curriculum for their children. Even if you do not follow the publisher’s precise lesson plans, such material may still be of use to help you know the basic information that should be presented in each area of the culinary arts. One of the few decent cooking/home economics courses that is available today written from a Christian perspective is available from Alpha Omega publishers. Information and ordering details for this course material can be obtained at www.aop.com , or by phoning 1-800-622-3070.
Few blessings in life can equal that of dining on good food with those that we love in an atmosphere that is pleasant. May the God of all grace, the very One who has given men the gift of food and fellowship, help home school parents to take advantage of the opportunity that they have been given to equip their children to know how to manage and prepare meals well.
Copyright 2008 Michael J. McHugh
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