3 Ways to Keep Your Sanity When Teaching Teens to Cook

NHES 7.2: Students will demonstrate healthy practices and behaviors that will maintain or improve the health of self and others



Food education—while definitely one of my passions—is not one of my strengths.

Don’t get me wrong; I love to cook. But teaching other people to cook requires a level of patience that I just don’t think I’ve mastered yet. Maybe it’s due to the many years I spent working in busy restaurants, but when I’m in the kitchen with my students, I have to remember to smile and breathe deeply, or else I might get all “Gordon Ramsey” on them.

Their lack of basic cooking skills leaves me frazzled, but it only reinforces my belief that, while it’s not my favorite part of my job, it’s something that must be done. (I imagine this is not unlike how elementary school teachers feel about multiplication tables.)

May 20th is Food Revolution Day, part of the awesome campaign started by chef and activist Jamie Oliver to get food education back into schools. If you’re not a seasoned cooking teacher (and bless your heart if you are), here are three tips that might keep you sane as you get your students involved.

1. What you might think is common sense might not be for your students.

Starting the blender before you put the lid on it, grabbing something from the oven without a mitt, gesturing wildly with a knife. These are all kitchen practices that most adults know NOT to do. But our students (even the older ones!) are not yet adults. It can be shocking when they don’t know these things, but your best bet is to be patient and stay alert.  

2. Find out which of your students already know how to cook, and group accordingly.

Kids come into class with a wide variety of skills. Some have been cooking for years, and others just don’t have a clue. Just as we assign groups for projects, it is vitally important that you put at least one skilled student in each group. If you let students pick their own groups, you’ll be washing dishes until at least 5 o’clock. (I learned this one the hard way.)

3. If you don’t have the space or resources to teach the kids yourself, call in the professionals.

Our first year participating in Food Revolution Day, I knew I would need some help. The other health teacher and I contacted some local chefs, and the owner of a health food store offered to come in and run the cooking demos for our students at a deeply discounted rate.

Even better than reaching out yourself? Have the students do it. Chefs have a hard time saying no to kids who want to learn how to cook. Plus, the kids will get to practice advocating for themselves.

Equipping kids with cooking skills will help them make healthier choices and get them excited about real food. So whether it’s Food Revolution Day or the end of a nutrition unit, we owe it to our students to head into the kitchen with smiles on our faces—whether we like it or not.