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Do Your "Home Work!" - Cooking

Teaching and learning frequently focus on the three R's: Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. While skilled teachers and homeschoolers will often integrate art, drama, science, social studies, and other subject areas into the three R's (the topic of an upcoming blog post), there are several subjects that will benefit your child but are generally not explicitly taught. These subjects comprise of "home" work--or the work of the home.

This post is one in a series of "Home Work" skills and will focus on cooking. Future posts might include cleaning, gardening, repairs, and even understanding insurance and taxes.

Long gone are the days of home ec class, but that does not mean that the skills learned therein are obsolete. If your child establishes the skills and routines necessary to cook and clean up, they are fostering not only their independence, but also habits that will aid them in self-sufficiency in the future. Furthermore, you can integrate the three R's into cooking!


Following a recipe seems simple enough, however there are many steps to cooking that require practice in order to progress. Remember that practice makes progress, not perfection. As a disclaimer, you are responsible for teaching your child about food and cooking safety. Piñon Tutoring is not responsible for any illnesses, accidents, or injuries that may occur during or as a result of cooking.

When starting a home cooking practice, begin simply. Now is not the time to make a frenched rack of lamb with demi glace and mint gastrique served with roasted garlic risotto and haricots verts almondine. One of the simplest things you can prepare with your child is my recipe for pasta with red sauce with capers and olives and a simple mixed salad, which can be found below.

The first step of cooking is to gather your ingredients. Instead of making a shopping list for your child, have them make it with you by examining a recipe. Look at the items in a recipe with your child. Then, have your child look through your pantry and refrigerator to take inventory of what you already have and what you will need to purchase. Items that need to be purchased, with their appropriate amounts, should be added to a shopping list. Creating a shopping list is fostering literacy skills. It requires reading, writing, and critically inventorying your stock of food goods.

Once your child has made the shopping list, take them shopping and assist them in discerning the best deals for their purchases. You could set a budget to create a sense of being thrifty, or you could educate them about organic produce to integrate a sustainability lesson. If setting a budget, your child might do addition or subtraction with decimals to determine if a particular ingredient or many ingredients are within budget.

Once you have gathered your ingredients, prepare your mise en place--French for "set up." This step is when you pre-measure and prep your ingredients to allow your actual cooking to go smoothly and without hiccups. For example, if a recipe calls for 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of chopped garlic, teach your child how to safely chop up a few cloves of garlic and measure them into a small bowl or separate dish. As a math connection, only allow them to use a 1/4 teaspoon measure, requiring them to add fractions and make conversions from teaspoons to table spoons in order to come up with the correct amount! There are 3 teaspoons per tablespoon, so your child would have to figure out that they need to measure 1/4 teaspoon 4 times to get 1 whole teaspoon, repeat that 3 times to get 1 tablespoon, etc.

Once your mise en place is set, begin cooking with your child. Following the recipe, teach your child about how to safely handle hot items. For younger children, remember to inform them that they are never to cook without an adult present.

Pasta with Olive and Caper Tomato Sauce and a Mixed Salad

For the pasta and sauce, you will need:

3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2.5 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped

1/2 teaspon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning

2 14 oz. cans petite diced tomatoes

2 14 oz. cans crushed tomatoes

3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives (or olives of your choice), drained

1/2 cup capers, drained

3 tablespoons dry red wine OR balsamic vinegar

salt, to taste (go easy, the olives and capers add salt to your recipe)

black pepper, to taste

1 lb. of pasta of your choice

parmesan cheese for serving, if desired

For the salad, you will need:

1 package of spring mix greens

cherry tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, radishes, croutons, or any other toppings you might like

salad dressing (pre-made, or, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper)

  1. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it thins and is fragrant--about 2-3 minutes.

  2. Add the chopped onions to the pan, stirring frequently, until they are soft and translucent--about 5 minutes.

  3. Add the chopped garlic, crushed red pepper, and Italian seasoning and cook for 1-2 minutes more, stirring consistently.

  4. Turn up the heat and empty the contents of all 4 cans of tomatoes to the pan. Be careful of splatters! Add a pinch of salt and black pepper. Once bubbling, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 30 minutes (during which time you can chop any ingredients you might need for your salad and toss with spring mix and dressing).

  5. After simmering, the sauce should be slightly thickened. Add the drained olives, capers, and the red wine or balsamic vinegar to the sauce. Simmer for 10-15 minutes more.

  6. In the meantime, heat a large pot of salted water until boiling for the pasta.

  7. Cook the pasta according to package instructions, then drain.

  8. Adjust the sauce for salt and pepper.

Serve the pasta with the sauce and, if desired, some parmesan cheese, and the mixed salad.

In addition to being a positive life skill that connects to academic subjects, cooking also offers executive functioning and mental health benefits, too, as it is, by its very nature, an exercise in execution and mindfulness.

Enjoy your dinner!

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