The Feeding Doctor on Pinterest

what 10 things should every high-schooler know how to cook?

Posted by on Jan 17, 2011 in Blog Posts | 61 comments

Ala Jaime Oliver saying kids should know 10 basic recipes before graduating school so they can cook, enjoy greater variety and nutrition, save money etc. What would those ten recipes be? (I once knew a home-ec teacher and her kids were learning hot-dogs rolled in American cheese and crescent rolls. Sounds yummy, but I mean from scratch…)

1. basic tomato sauce (for pasta and pizza)
2. pan-sauteed chicken breast with glaze
(any one, but maple/dijon is fast and easy)
3. basic salad vinaigrette

4. mashed potatoes
5. pan pork chops

6. roast chicken

7. a basic soup (chicken noodle)
8. breaded fish or chicken
9. basic casserole (tuna noodle)
10. cooked veggies, like carrots and peas

What would your list look like?

Maybe at dinner tonight, the contributions and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can be part of the conversation…

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  1. CoffeeMom

    I know I’m 3 years late to this discussion, was recently been referred to this lovely blog, but, having a teenager that I teach home ec to, I’m asking him to learn how to cook not only foods he’ll eat, but ones that his future spouse and children (who may not have SED) will eat. I tell him, “There’s no guarantee that your spouse will know how to cook. I’m not asking that you eat these foods. I would never do that. Just know a couple of basics so that you can feed your kids.” He’s learned how to make:

    1) roast turkey & chicken (he’ll eat the eat the skin and a bit of the breast meat)
    2) other traditional Thanksgiving dishes like our Three Day Stuffing and pies
    3) Homemade bread (I make a lot of bread. He doesn’t eat it, but that’s okay.)
    4) Chocolate cake (He’ll eat the batter, not the baked cake.)
    5) fry bacon (a staple food)
    6) Ramen noodle soup (another staple)
    7) french fries from scratch and frozen (ditto)
    8) simple pot luck dishes like Swedish Meatballs and deviled eggs (I think he ignored the lesson on deviled eggs because the ingredients gross him out. That’s okay though. 🙂
    9) His favorite sugar cookies and corn muffins
    10) Other basics that he won’t eat, but are foods his spouse/children/friends might such as: cooking rice, pasta, making a sandwich, scrambled eggs, etc.

    • katja

      I love this! No pressure, hopefully he can have a decent time in the kitchen preparing these things, and one never knows when and if he someday decides to take a taste of that corn muffin or scrambled egg… What is 3 day stuffing???

  2. Uly

    1. A basic pasta sauce with…
    1a. the modifications that make it into a great chili

    2. The basics for omelettes with…
    2a. a list of various tried-and-true veggie combinations to go in them

    3. Pancakes with fruit (because then they can swap out what fruit they use

    4. A basic roast chicken with vegetables recipe that can be easily varied

    5. Fried rice

    6. Steamed vegetables

    7. Roasted vegetables with…
    7a. various flavoring ideas

    8. Plain eggs, any version

    9. Cake, obviously. That stuff is sooooo easy to make.

    10. Whatever it is that’s their favorite complete meal.

  3. Anonymous

    My list would have t look like this:
    1. mashed taters
    2. hash browns
    3. dutch oven chili
    4. mountain pies
    5. tomato sauce
    6. 5 alarm sauce (family recipe)
    7. boiled bbq ham
    8. ham
    9. a burger with the works
    10. fried chicken.

    and if yer wonderin abut them things you call “vegetables, crap em! meatheads for life, and us meatheads dont give a crap about em.

    • katja

      Well, I like meat as much as the next guy (OK, well maybe not as much as you) but I think that teaching young people some delicious ways to make veggies, (maybe start with baked beans?) might help them like them. Beans simmered in butter and broth and a touch of brown sugar? Delish. Sometimes I cook a “balanced” meal with meat, starch, a veggie or two, and all I want to eat is the meat, and if there is enough, I do. Other times, the veggies are what I crave. Oh, and what is a mountain pie?

  4. EngineerMom

    Love this topic! I grew up cooking and baking (there’s a photo of me helping my dad make bread from scratch at the age of 4), and it was always astonishing to me how many of my college friends had no idea how to prepare anything beyond ramen, EasyMac, and frozen pizza.

    My list of “necessaries” for my own kids (one is 3, the other due any day now):

    1. Bread. I consider this one a necessity because it’s not that hard, but it takes experience for it to turn out right, and making yeast bread dough is the foundation of a lot of other “from scratch” dishes, like pizza, garlic bread, etc.

    2. Muffins. Really any quick bread, because it’s so versatile and can use up all kinds of leftovers in a delicious way.

    3. Eggs – scrambled and frittata. See previous comment on using up leftovers!

    4. Pasta – how cook it and how to add very basic “sauces” like olive oil and parmesan or butter and fresh herbs.

    5. Steamed veggies

    6. Their favorite dish, whatever it happens to be.

    7. How to bake chicken. Baked chicken breast, especially, can be the foundation of so many meals, and it’s very economical to buy on sale, bake it up, freeze it in baggies, and add to various sauces or soups.

    8. Basic broth-based soup. Broth, frozen veggies, aromatics (onions and garlic and herbs), protein, and rice/pasta/barley.

    9. Chili.

    10. From-scratch cake. Making a basic cake from scratch (yellow or chocolate) is not any harder than from a box mix – dump dry and wet ingredients in a bowl, beat, dump in pan, bake. Ditto with some very simple frostings, and so useful for helping college friends celebrate birthdays!

  5. Jenny Islander

    Drawing partly on my experiences in WW, I would lead a discussion on how it feels to be a little bit hungry, ravenous, satisfied, full, and stuffed. I would ask each student to track their feelings of hunger and satiety for a few days and also write down what they ate and drank, not to the exacting standards of WW, but just enough to correlate food with effects on blood sugar. The charts would be private to each student. The point would be to recognize three problems:

    1. Eating when not hungry, because it’s food time;
    2. Not eating when hungry;
    3. Eating something that does not satisfy sufficiently.

    Doing this helped me recognize that I need a high-protein breakfast with some fat in it or I get a pounding headache by midmorning, that most so-called snack foods just leave me hungrier, and so forth. Each student would develop his or her own meal plan in the same way.

    • katja

      This is wonderful. Wish they would teach something like that in home-ec, not calorie counting and how to make fat-free cupcakes…

  6. Jenny Islander

    I would start with more basic things, such as which foods make a person full, how to measure one’s own appetite, and the signs of dehydration. Seriously.

    Then, as previous posters have said, how to choose fresh vegetables, etc., and basic cooking techniques.

    After that, assuming that most teenagers will spend some time in dorms or very downscale apartments, concentrate on filling, nourishing foods that require minimal equipment (burner, toaster oven, and small fridge), plus some treats.

    1. Oatmeal, the things that can be added to oatmeal including savory versions such as miso oatmeal, fried mush.
    2. Miso soup, with and without katsuobushi–miso is compact and keeps a long time in a small fridge.
    3. How to cook eggs, basic stovetop recipes.
    4. How to cook rice and things that can be added to a pot of rice for flavor.
    5. Stir-fry of fresh or frozen vegetables with tofu or thinly sliced meat or without.
    6. Fried rice with egg and chopped leftover stir-fry.
    7. How to make muffins in a toaster oven. Cornbread muffins, sweet muffins, all kinds. Sloppy Joe with canned sauce over your own hot homemade cornbread muffins is a morale raiser IME.
    8. Basic baked potato recipes–split, baked, and topped with broccoli and cheese/canned chili/sour cream and chives; jo-jos; mashed potatoes even.
    9. The first step toward old-fashioned American home cooking should be homemade white sauce. Explore what it can do: homemade cream soup, homemade cheese sauce for mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes, seriously tasty tuna casserole, etc.
    10. Finally, basic bar cookies with variations.

    • katja

      Great points! Wonder how you would you teach kids to “measure one’s own appetite?” What has worked for you, what hasn’t? I think the typical approach is “moderation” or “portion control.” If kids have spent years not eating based on hunger cues, how does one teach that? I know there are some didactic methods, but I also think living it, feeling it, making “mistakes” is are key factors…

  7. Grace

    I think that it is much easier for kids/people to start cooking using canned goods. Grasp the concept then start going from scratch. You can find simple cook books using canned foods. Every major company (kraft, campbells etc) all have recipes. Usually very simple. And they should know that an off brand works just as well as the more expensive name brand.

    Some old reliables for me:

    1. Broccili cheese rice casserole

    2. Chili

    3. Casseroles…understand that any dish can be made into a casserole ANY DISH. Take your favorite dish and toss it all together…My faves are cabbage roll casserole, enchillada casserole, tuna casserole

    4. Alfredo sauce (milk, butter, crm of mushroom soup and parmesean….campbells recipe has exact amounts) then you can add any veggie or protien to it.

    5. Understand how to use a crock pot…

    6. beer bread (1 12 oz bottle room temp beer, 3 1/3 cups self rising flour…mix…bake at 355 for 55 minutes) Simple as that.

    7. Their favorite protien.

    8. you can take an expensive cut of meat…a roast….slice it and make steaks.

    9. How to marinade inexpensive meats to make them more tender and flavor full. salad dressings work well in a resealable container….olive oil with whatever spices you have on hand.

    10. Garlic bread/ croutons………. slice or cube a unsliced loaf of itallian/french etc. In a bowl (for bread) or ziploc bag (for croutons) add olive oil and garlic..other seasonings are great to. My fave is chili/lime.

    11. A dessert. A box cake mix and a can of soda. Mix. Bake as directed. they are VERY moist. Experiment with flavors. This house loves chocolate cake with cherry cola or dr.pepper. Another is Orange cake with orange cream soda. Top with cool whip. Simple. Good.

    12. Boiling/steaming anything with a broth or seasoning in the water enhances the flavors greatly. I always add salt to pasta water, broth or boullion (sp) to vegetable water. Garlic or chicken broth to potato water.

    13. ranch is a secret ingredient to make flavorful spuds..

  8. Cindy

    I have 3 children – 2 teens and 1 tween. They make pancakes, waffles, pasta, scrambled eggs, “Hu Hot” style stir fry, fish, baked potatoes w/toppings, smoothies, brownies, salads, and taco salad (haystacks) rice, quesadillas. They round out meals with fresh fruits or veggies. I think we are doing okay! I love it when they use their skills and make a meal during the week. The best part – I didn’t have to motivate them – they wanted to learn. I don’t know how I was so lucky!?

    We haven’t focused on technique – we have focused on being able to create a few meals they enjoy.

    Katja – I enjoy your blog – good food for thought!

    • katja

      you are lucky, but I bet your attitude and parenting had at least a little something to do with it! Sounds like you’re doing great! Do you think they learn technique by making meals they enjoy? I think that’s how I learned. What do I like to eat, how do I do it… Glad you like my blog! Pass it on!

      • Cindy

        Yes, I think that is it – they are learning technique by making the meals they enjoy. I haven’t thought of it that way before.

        My youngest is learning to read recipes – so she’ll “read” cookbooks looking for something delicious to make. It makes me smile just thinking about it. There are so many cute kid cookbooks available.

  9. The WellRounded Mama

    I’ve been looking for a good, easy recipe for Dal. Something not spicy, not hard to make. We have Indian friends and have had this at their house; even my fussy kids like it. Sounds like another easy, good, basic food kids could learn to make.

    Anyone have a good link for an easy version of Dal? We cook sometimes with lentils but don’t have a lot of experience with different kinds or things to do with them and would like more good recipes for it.

  10. MadamQ

    Curries are made easy if you buy a good quality curry paste (paste, not sauce). Most supermarkets sell them these days, brands like Patak’s and Sharwood’s are nicely done. Look on the label to check that the indredients are mostly real spices and herbs instead of salt and sugar. You can start out with something mild like korma if you’re not sure of heat levels. My easy curry recipe:

    Chop up your meat or vegetables. You can use pretty much any meat, and chunky cut vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers, carrot, baby potatoes, sweet potato/yams, etc, work well in veg curries. Alternately, canned lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and red kidney beans are good too.

    Put a tablespoon or so of a high-temp oil like sunflower or peanut in a big high-sided skillet or a soup pot, and heat it up good. Add the recommended amount of curry paste from the label for the amount of meat or vegetables you have. Stir it until it’s fragrant, then add some chopped onion and/or garlic if you like. Add the meat/vegetables/canned legumes and fry in the curry paste. You may need to add some more oil.

    Pour a over the mostly-cooked meat/veg: plain passata, or canned finely-chopped tomato, enough to cover it over. Bring it to a good simmer, taste for spices/heat/etc – you can add some powdered chili or salt here if you like, then turn it down to a low simmer until the sauce has thickened to be somthing like a thick soup. Serve with rice or flatbread.

    For more advanced curries, you can still use the curry pastes, but learn to use nut pastes and coconut cream to thicken the sauces.

    • katja

      do you mean the jars of patak? I use the jars, but will look for the paste… I like the jarred sauce well enough, but want it to taste “deeper” somehow if that makes sense…

      • MadamQ

        The Patak’s brand has jarred sauces and jarred pastes – the pastes will definitely give you a deeper taste! 🙂

  11. jaed

    I agree technique is more important than recipes, but if you choose the right recipes, they’ll teach technique as well. And I think it’s easier to teach recipes than techniques: recipes have an endpoint, a concrete goal that you’ll get to eat at the end, while techniques can be kind of disconnected if you’re a beginner.

    My list:

    1. Buttersteamed veggies: because it’s a good simple way to prepare most vegetables, tastes better than nuking them, and can be simple or not depending on how you season them.

    2. Roasted veggies: it’s a good simple way to yadda yadda, and also it’s a necessary technique for:

    3. Vegetable stock: which will let you branch out into meat stocks since they’re made more or less the same way, and which is a necessary technique for:

    4. Basic soup: heat oil (evoo, butter, peanut oil…) in a pan and cook alliums (garlic, onions, leeks…) with a little thickener (flour, cornstarch), and then add liquid (stock, water, wine), seasonings, and other ingredients (vegetables and meat) in whatever combination, optionally adding starch (rice, noodles), possibly pureeing the soup. Less liquid, and you have a stew.

    5. Roasted chicken: it’s a good and reasonably impressive company dish, you can scale up the same techniques to roast other birds after gaining confidence with chickens, and roasted chicken is a good starting point for all manner of things such as chicken salad.

    6. Broiled fish: just cooked fish with lemon, a little oil or butter, and herbs. You can use the same technique for chicken breasts or thighs, and similar techniques for steaks.

    7. Pan-simmered pork chops. Many variations, and you can use the same technique for chicken breasts.

    8. Mixed stirfry: cook meat or fish, cook veggies, make classic cornstarch-thickened sauce. This teaches the stirfry technique, of course, but it also teaches a simple sauce method that you can use to make sauces or gravies.

    9. Chocolate chip cookies: this gives you a basic butter cookie, and with a few changes, several different flavors of cookie.

    10. Omelets: You can put almost anything in an omelet or eat it plain. You will never lack for breakfast again, and omelets can be made very impressive with the right ingredients. Make it a little messier and it’s an egg scramble.

    You can’t cook everything if you can do these ten recipes, but you can cook an awful lot of things.

    • katja

      What she said… Honestly, this was a perfect and well-thought out list. We should send it to Jamie Oliver! It’s also fun to see how people do things differently. ie I don’t use flour in soup base, but it sounds good… I popped my list up quickly after a comment from a reader on a different post, but these comments are brilliant!

  12. Twistie

    I’m with those saying that technique is more important than recipes in this case. After all, not everyone has the same food preferences or ethnic background, both of which are strong influences on what people actually want to eat. But if you have basic knife skills, can boil, saute, steam, fry, roast, bake, and broil, you can make any number of good meals based on what you have access to in terms of ingredients and equipment as well as cold, hard cash.

    Further, I think that kids should be taught both to follow a recipe and to trust their own instincts, to use both weights and standard measures, how to recognize when something that looks bad can be salvaged, to taste as they cook so that they can adjust seasonings, and how to choose a good substitute ingredient (will whole wheat flour work just as well as white in this bread? If I don’t have rice, can I use some other grain instead? Can I add in some spinach without harming the dish?) in a pinch.

    Yes, this is ambitious, but my parents managed it with me and my brothers, and we could all turn out a respectable family dinner before we hit puberty.

  13. Dawn

    I echo what a lot of people have already said about the techniques being just as (or more) important. It’s hard of me to really think about specific recipes. My daughter is only 5 but she already cooks with me most nights. She doesn’t actually do much of the cooking but she’s usually in the kitchen and watching everything I do. She is very curious about ingredients and one of her big things lately is tasting everything raw and then cooked to see how it’s different. She did not like raw onion but likes them cooked. She also constantly asks ‘why’. For example ‘why are you waiting for the pan to be hot before you put the fish in?’. I figure if I can instill in her some basic techniques just by including her in the cooking process regularly then she will be fine. Of course, I love to cook and eat a variety of foods and so does she. That makes it easy. As for a list, I would echo cookies of some sort. I wasn’t much of a cook in University but the one thing I could make that always impressed was awesome chewy peanut butter cookies.

    • katja

      I like that she’s curious. M isn’t really all that interested yet, but she does see me doing things. I often prep dinner parts while she has after-school snack. I was never interested in cooking as a kid, but as my Mom said, “She likes to eat, she’ll learn to cook.” M already feels that home food tastes better and “feels sorry” for people who have to eat restaurant food a lot 🙂 I keep offering, but I’m certainly not going to get into a power struggle about making her cook yet… I do like the ideas of having older kids and teens responsible for cooking occasionally.

  14. The WellRounded Mama

    Oooh, oooh! Three more!

    Knowing how to use a meat thermometer so you know when tricky stuff is really safe to eat.

    Knowing how to marinate meats to tenderize them and flavor them more easily.

    Knowing how to make a quick and easy slaw (we use rice vinegar and lime juice instead of mayo) for a quick veggie side dish.

    • katja

      i like the idea of learning how to cook with “lesser” cuts of meats, tenderizing, slow-cooking etc…

  15. The WellRounded Mama


    Homemade chili (using canned beans is fine) with lots of veggies is one I’ve made sure my kids can do, along with many of the others you mentioned. Eggs, stir-fry, pasta, rice, how to handle/cook meats safely, salads, etc. are all important. Being able to grill safely is another good one.

    Making good home-made soup is a VERY important one, especially in a slow-cooker. Great skill to have as they live off-campus during college or start their working lives. Healthy, cheap, filling, and not difficult. Ka-ching!

    I find that many of my parenting peers aren’t actively teaching their teens to cook. I think they really need to know this skill! I ask mine to help me in many meals, and in the summer when they are off school, they are responsible for fixing meals on certain nights. Good, practical applied learning.

    I’m learning to can, and I’m trying to get my kids to learn it along with me. They’re not enthused, but I figure it’s a good life skill to know about. My sons also learn dutch-oven cooking in Scouts, and they are trying to teach the rest of us. Good emergency preparedness skill!

    • lyorn

      On learning to make soup: Ages ago I wanted to make a soup for a party, and every recipe I found started with “for four persons, take 1 1/2 pounds of lean beef”. First, am I made of money, and second, who on earth eats that much beef? Finally I found a cookbook from the late 19th century, where the soup recipe pretty much said, “take meat if you have any, throw in pot with chopped veggies, cover with water, cook until done, add spices to taste.”

      That was the moment I understood cooking.

      • katja

        I love this! Yup, that’s how the stir-fry went the other night. What veggies are in here? Mushrooms, some left-pver pork roast that I cubed, added the onion staple, the half napa cabbage from the hot-pot earlier in the week. Sauteed it all, added honey and terriyaki…

  16. AcceptanceWoman

    And by cooking with children, I mean having them assist in cooking, not as in an ingredient in cooking.

    • KellyK

      Hehehe. Any time I see the “We Don’t Serve Teens” sign in a restaurant (meaning “we card, we don’t serve teens *alcohol*”), I want to say, “Yeah, I bet the health inspector woudln’t appprove if you did.”

  17. AcceptanceWoman

    First of all, let me just say that I rarely comment here but I love this blog so much. M reminds me so much of my little one (who I used to refer to as superhero princess but who now wants to be a kindergarten teacher).

    I would say that the things I hope my girl knows how to cook before she leaves home include:
    Stir-fried vegetables with or without some kind of meat
    Chicken soup
    Her dad’s famous chicken curry
    How to cook eggs just the way she likes them
    Her favorite vegetables, just the way she likes them.

    She’s almost 6 years old, and here are the things she has either made or helped make:
    fruit salad
    cole slaw
    homemade chappatis
    chocolate cake
    chocolate waffles
    fruit punch

    She hasn’t done much cooking yet for safety reasons, but she’s chopped fruit and vegetables, mashed potatoes, stuff like that.

    I knew how to cook a few things before I left home because I helped my mom cook dinner from the time I was in jr. high.

    I think cooking with children is the best way for them to learn.

    • katja

      yum, I want to learn to cook at YOUR house too! I’ve had limited luck with Indian cooking. I’m always dissapointed! I had a friend who taught me some of her family’s cooking, but even though I took notes and practiced a few times, it’s been awhile and I’m nervous! Are you willing to share the famous chicken curry recipe??

      • AcceptanceWoman

        Okay, here’s how my husband makes it (more or less)

        1 whole chicken cut up into small-ish pieces (the breast is cut in quarters)
        4-5 medium juicy tomatoes
        1 large onion chopped
        4 cloves of garlic chopped
        curry spices (your favorite), salt and pepper
        cilantro (if you like it)

        Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until the onions are translucent.
        Puree the fresh tomatoes in a blender or food processor.
        Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and curry (spices to taste). Saute the tomatoes until the color starts to change to a darker color. Add the chicken pieces and cilantro (if using). Stir to coat, and add some broth or water at this point so the pieces are covered. Cover pot and simmer at a medium or medium-low heat.
        You can add fresh green beans or carrots after a few minutes if you want to. If you want to add potatoes, make sure they aren’t too big so they will be done at the same time as the chicken, and allow the pieces to rest on top so they don’t stick and burn. You can add cauliflower during the last 20 minutes of cooking — it will steam on top.
        The chicken generally takes 45 minutes or so to cook.
        You can adjust the seasonings (sometimes it needs a little more salt at this point).
        We serve it with brown rice or sometimes white basmati rice, and pickled hot peppers (or chutney) on the side for those who like it more spicy. It’s also really good with chapattis.
        The same process also works for beef cut into chunks instead of chicken.

  18. Emily

    I have to cook vegetarian on a budget, so my list would be geared toward “easy, cheap, and can bypass most of your friends, family, and roommates’ dietary restrictions,” which I think are probably pretty key goals for most young adults.

    Trish’s list in the first comment is actually great for those criteria, and even though I am a bit older than the target group and trying to branch out in my cooking as much as possible, most of what I make still fits in those categories! However, for 8 and 9 to be vegetarian I’d substitute a good bean chili for #8 and either a roast vegetable dish (if you do the chopped salad instead of cooked veggies for #3) or a vegetable quesadilla for #9. Most of her options are also things you can make either gluten or dairy free, too (although if you know anyone with both restrictions…make friends with quinoa).

    A fruity dessert for #10 is a great idea too – Jamie Oliver may not approve, but it’s great to have something homemade to bring to a party or make for someone’s birthday. Berry crumble and chocolate zucchini bread are super-easy, quick, and pretty universally beloved.

  19. sandrad

    How about 10 thing they DON’T need to know how to cook? the 2nd lesson (1st was making a pot of tea)we had in grade 8 foods was broiled grapefruit, WTF??? – for some reason this confirmed the general consensus that the home ec. teacher was insane.
    I cook alot. I have NEVER in the over 30 years since this class felt any need to broil a grapefruit -or any other citrus fruit.

  20. TropicalChrome

    Lists like this are great sound bytes for publicity, but they make so many assumptions that I don’t think they’re particularly useful. For example, Jamie Oliver’s list assumes that everyone eats meat (his list is very meat heavy). It assumes everyone likes all of those dishes – and I, for one, never liked pan cooked pork chops, especially the way my mother did them. So learning to cook them would have been a waste, because I’d never eat them on my own (grilled pork chops are the way to go, but I digress.)

    I’d rather see a list of general cooking skills, like other commenters have mentioned above – recognizing the edible parts of a vegetable, how to tell it’s cooked, what “saute” and “steam” and “dice” mean. Then pick out a good general cookbook *with pictures* and learn to cook something like 2 appetizers, 3 mains, 3 sides (at least 2 of which are not starch), and a dessert. Stuff they like, stuff they can make, stuff they might actually want to make again.

    I emphasize *with pictures* because most beginning cooks can’t read a recipe and just see what a dish is supposed to look like when it’s finished. A picture showing them the goal is well worth a thousand words.

    • katja

      Excellent points all. I guess part of why I picked the recipes I did is because a) i like them and cook them often b) many of them use the basic skills you mention. ie dicing carrots, celery onions for a soup base, prepping veggies for a casserole etc. Pictures are a HUGE help, as is seeing it done in person. I like also Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family. If one has NO cooking skills, starting with foods made from canned ingredients and building on success is a way to start.

    • Living400lbs

      Some skills I would start with:

      1) Chopping; a good “practice dish” of this is prepping a salad, and yes, this could also address which parts of common salad veggies are edible (do you NEED to throw about the beet or carrot greens?)

      2) Steaming things, such as vegetables. It’s also useful to talk about how some people prefer certain veggies raw (lettuce) vs cooked, and how it’s okay to steam some veggies before putting them in a salad. Agreed on the “getting things done at the same time” advantages of steaming the veggies.

      3) Saute-ing things, such as making a stir-fry.

      4) Boiling things, like pasta noodles or potatoes. (French Cooking in 10 Minutes, written in the early part of the 20th century, instructs the reader to ALWAYS light the stove first thing on getting home and to ALWAYS put a pot of water on to boil right away, with the idea being that it’s easier to use already-boiling water than to wait for it to boil. Of course the author also assumes you’ll want hot water to make coffee at the end of the meal, so you’d use it for coffee if you don’t use it for food.)

      5) Herbs & spices 101. I’d tackle some common flavor families like basil, oregano, garlic; chili powder & cumin; sage, rosemary, thyme. Mixing some sweet & sour sauce (ketchup, vinegar, sugar) and curry powder might be useful too.

      6) Reconstituting dried legumes. How and why you clean, pick, and soak dried beans or split peas. Price comparisons of dried vs canned beans.

      7) Chopping 2, raw meat. It doesn’t hold still like veggies, why you don’t want to chop veggies to be served uncooked and raw meat on the same cutting board, etc. This could lead to another stir-fry.

      8) Breading things, be they tofu, veggies, or meat. Why you dredge in flour and eggs before the actual breading. Why these should be in separate containers. Why re-using the un-used breading stuffs that have come into contact with raw meat is bad.

      9) Cooking with a whole bird. Yes, you can cook things with the kidneys and liver and neck (if it’s there) or not, but don’t just leave it in the bird. Yes, rinse it inside and out. Why stuffing with anything other than some herbs can be problematic (if you cook it enough to cook the stuffing usually the bird is dry). How to tell it’s done, aka, yes, you need a meat thermometer. Chickens would probably take to long in a classroom, so probably game hens.

      10) Baking a simple quick bread like biscuits or muffins. Note that baking soda is in baking powder but they are not interchangeable. Why pre-heating is useful. Prepping pans.

      • katja

        now, I thought I just read no more rinsing chickens because it simply spreads the bacteria in the kitchen and with proper cooking it should be fine (Cooks Illustrated, I think…) Can you explain why you say rinse? I’d like to know.

      • unscrambled

        I totally agree with this.

        The thing that I would add is something like:

        understanding how flavors work. Something like, getting how hot/sour/salty/sweet/savory balance for your palate. Tasting your food to see how flavors change things–this is some of what you allude to in your herbs thing, but I think if people can understand the main flavors of things, it can translate well across many different cuisines.

  21. Elizabeth

    Actually, I rarely steam them myself, either, but I think it’s a good thing to know how to do, because you can apply it to virtually any vegetable, and you can do it on a hot plate. If they’re too plain, you can always throw on a pat of butter as you take them off the steamer. They’re an excellent choice for intermediate level “making things come out at the same time,” too – you can’t just leave them on the steamer forever, so you do have to think about it, but you do have a fairly wide range of “acceptably done.” Plus you don’t have to figure prep time too closely – you can chop the vegetables and start the water boiling way early, and just time the point that you put on the steamer basket.

  22. Elizabeth

    I don’t think that tomato sauce is really necessary starting out. There’s no shame in Ragu – it’s really pretty good and reasonably priced. I do think that that teenager needs to know how to cook pasta. Similarly, bottled salad dressing is a perfectly reasonable choice for a beginning cook, but it’s a good idea to know which parts of the salad vegetables are edible and which parts aren’t.

    1. Spaghetti and/or other pasta
    2. Rice
    3. Eggs
    4. Pan-fried meat (chicken breasts, steak, chops, “meaty” fish like salmon – they’re all basically the same, with just changes in timing) OR broiled meat
    5. Cookies of some variety
    6. Steamed veggies
    7. Stir-fry
    8. Green salad
    9. Cooked-meat casserole (e.g., tuna or cooked chicken, preferably with some veggies but not necessarily)
    10. Whatever their own family’s favorite “company” main dish recipe is – something interesting to others that tastes like home to them

    • katja

      good point on the bottled dressing. Learning to boil eggs, potatoes, pasta, rice may be the place to start… On another note, I rarely steam veggies… I often simmer in a little broth and butter and/or pinch of brown sugar and salt…

  23. JeninCanada

    lol I graduated from highschool 7 years ago and have no idea how to make pasta sauce. I don’t eat it so I never learned! Every highschooler needs to learn how to bbq; it’s fast, delicious and easy to do and there’s so much you can do on a bbq besides steak.

    • katja

      interesting. BBQ as in grill? It is a great way to cook, but I would be scared to have a grill on most of the college houses I knew back in the day. they were all tinder-box fire-traps already! 🙂

  24. lyorn

    1) potatos (boiled, fried, mashed)
    2) rice (several ways to prepare)
    3) pasta
    4) eggs (boiled, stirred and fried)
    5) stir-fry
    6) basic casserole
    7) omelettes/pancakes
    8) one kind of cabbage or other complex scary vegetable
    9) one standard dish for guests: big piece of meat in the oven, or a whole fish, or something equally impressive but vegetarian or vegan.
    10) Gugelhupf (because everyone should know how to make a yeast dough).

    I’d add a classic mousse au chocolate, because a) there can never be too much mousse au chocolat in the world, and b), once you can do that, you can do anything.

    • katja

      yes, eggs!!! A food I wish M would eat. Eggs and nuts… Those are two she almost never chooses when presented. Would make my life so much easier! Mousse! Yummo!

  25. KellyK

    That’s a good question. I have trouble coming up with 10 specific things, but I like the idea of making sure they know how to do 3 or 4 different entrees, a soup, a veggie dish or two, and a couple desserts. I also think it’d be awesome if home ec prepared them for college cooking–what can you make with limited pans, utensils, etc.

    • katja

      i love the college cooking idea… I lived in a hotel for 10 weeks and got good at cooking in a rice cooker and a microwave. I made veggie rolls, buffalo mannwich, pasta, and a full thanksgiving dinner (OK, I bought a smoked turkey leg, but I made stuffing and rice and squash on the side 🙂 I’d love to know what your tricks are for cooking without a range…

  26. lyorn

    1) Potatos

  27. Trish

    a great topic! I should probably think about this some more but off the top of my head I thought of (many similarities with your list):
    1) a basic tomato/pasta sauce
    2) chopped salad (raw veggie) – or cooked veggie side dish
    3) omelet / other egg dish
    4) casserole
    5) stir fry
    6) beans & rice (your choice to make this Latin, Indian, or other flavor – even just one or the other – risotto? pilaf?)
    7) soup
    8) sauteed protein of choice (chicken, fish, pork; breaded or not; could maybe sub a marinated, grilled dish instead)
    9) roast protein of choice (chicken, beef, or pork)
    10) what about a quick bread or other sweet (Fruit dish, pie, cake, etc)?

    the only thing missing from this list I wish were on is a potato side dish (mashed, scalloped, roast, sauteed, what have you) – for me I’m not big on the traditional casserole so that is maybe what I would replace – for me personally. But the one-dish meal concept is a really essential tool in the student arsenal, whatever that looks like!

    I think Pam Anderson’s How to Cook Without a Book has a kind of similar concept, though the count is well over 10 basic core “recipes” or concepts.

    • katja

      beans and rice, great one!!! Stir fry is awesome too… You can do such a quick sauce with terriyaki and honey…