Do you have aspiring chefs living with you? Sit down with them and this how-to guide on every kitchen basic they need to know to be safe and successful in the kitchen. It covers everything from knife safety to a crash course on basic terminology and measurement abbreviations so they can start creating their own dishes in no time!
When I was growing up my Dad would always tell me, “You have to learn the rules before you can break them.” I would roll my eyes, but it turns out he was right. Learning how things work before you try to change them ends up being much easier. This is especially true with cooking. You need to know how to cook, how ingredients will taste, and a little bit of basic science before you can start making your own recipes. So, before we get started, let’s go over kitchen safety, how to measure ingredients, how to read a recipe, and a few other helpful tips.
First, always get an adult’s permission. Chefs have assistants known as sous chefs, and the adult helping you will be your sous chef. They are there to help and make sure you don’t lose a finger, but you are the chef and call the shots.
Secondly, always wash your hands before cooking! Re-wash them anytime they get messy.
Grip your knife handle with your thumb and index finger. Hold the knife handle firmly but don’t squeeze it too hard or your hand will get tired.
Don’t lose a finger! Always curl your fingers inwards while you cut so your fingertips don’t get in the way of the knife. The knife should just graze your knuckles when cutting. This hand position is called “the claw”. Ask your sous chef (the adult helping you) to show you how to do this and practice it together.
If you have to walk around the kitchen with your knife, hold it flat against your thigh and never run. Let people know you have a knife by yelling, “Knife!” just like they do in professional kitchens.
If you can’t reach the oven, use a step stool. Turn your pot and pan handles in toward the stove so you don’t hit them by accident, and never touch a hot pot handle. Always use a timer when you cook to ensure you don’t burn anything.
What?!?! Cleaning?! I know that cleaning up sounds like a chore, but it is only fair. Make clean-up faster by cleaning as you go: wiping up spills, washing dishes as you use them, and putting ingredients back to their home. (Bonus points: if you wipe down all the counters and sweep once you are done cooking your parents will be really impressed by how responsible you are and will probably let you cook more often!)
How to Measure Ingredients
When you are first learning how to cook, it is best to follow the recipes until you feel confident in changing things up or substituting ingredients. Measuring ingredients to make sure we have the right amount of everything is an important part of following a recipe.
There are a few different tools we can use to measure ingredients.
- Measuring spoons are for measuring small amounts like spices
- Measuring cups are used for measuring larger dry amounts like flour
- Liquid measuring cups are used for measuring liquids like water or almond milk
- Kitchen scales are used to measure weight, like 1 pound of apples.
- c: cup (250ml)
- lbs: pound (16oz)
- Tbsp: tablespoon (15ml)
- tsp: teaspoon (5ml)
- Big handful: around 1/2 to 1 cup
- Small handful: around 1/4 to 1/3 cup
- Drizzle: a light pour
- Pinch: as much as you can squeeze between your thumb and pointer finger
How to Understand Cooking Terms
Keep this list handy in the kitchen so you always know how to read recipes!
- Blend: using a mixer to mix and purée ingredients
- Beat: to mix with a spoon, mixer or whisk
- Fold: to combine ingredients together by gently stirring mixture bringing the bottom up to the top
- Mix: stirring ingredients together until combined
- Purée: to blend food together until smooth
- Whip: to beat ingredients together quickly with a whisk or mixer until light and fluffy
- Bake: to cook in oven
- Boil: when water breaks into large bubbles over high heat
- Broil: to cook in an oven using only heat from above, usually to brown or melt something
- Roast: to bake at a high temperature
- Sauté: to fry in a small amount of oil
- Simmer: a low, slow boil with smaller bubbles over medium to low heat
Cutting and Slicing
- Cube: to cut into medium squares
- Dice: to cut into small squares
- Julienne: to cut into thin long strips
- Mince: to cut into very small pieces
- Slice: to cut into thin pieces
- Zest: to remove the outer colored part of citrus with a grater
- Dress: to put dressing on something like a salad
- Garnish: to decorate with something edible, like parsley
- Toss: to gently mix something, like a salad
- Fork Tender: when a fork goes through what you are cooking easily, a sign it is done cooking
- Golden Brown: when the color of baked good turn from pale to golden brown, a sign it is done baking
- As Desired: add as much or little as you like
- Optional: it is up to you if you want to add this ingredient
How To Read a Recipe
Ok, you are almost ready to start cooking! Now all we need to know is how to read a recipe. Here is what a recipe looks like:
10 minute Prep Time
- ½ cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
- ½ lemon, juiced
- ¾ cup vegan sour cream
- 2 Tbsp fresh parsley, or 2 tsp dried parsley
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ¼ tsp dried dill
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- Combine milk and lemon juice to make a non-dairy buttermilk. Set aside for five minutes.
- Mix buttermilk with the remaining ingredients.
- Serve as a dip or as a salad dressing.
Reading the Recipe
First, always read a recipe fully before starting to cook. Make sure you have all the right ingredients, equipment and time to make the recipe. Make sure you understand all the steps in the recipe and if you don’t know how to do any, ask an adult for help in explaining what it is.
- Title: This recipe’s title is Vegan Ranch Dip. The title is either a short description of what the recipe is or just a fun title.
- Serves: This is the amount the recipe will make. This recipe makes one smoothie.
- Prep Time: This is the amount of time it takes to get everything ready for the recipe but does not include cooking time. This recipe takes ten minutes to prep.
- Ingredients: This is everything you need to make a recipe and the measurements. Sometimes recipes list the ingredients like in the Vegan Ranch Dip and sometimes the ingredients and the measurements are listed in the preparation steps.
Sometimes a direction is included within the ingredient list. Always have the ingredients ready according to the directions. For example: ½ lemon, juiced – this means you need to juice the lemon before you can start.
Some recipes have optional ingredients, this means you choose whether you want to add them or not.
Refer to the “How to Measure Ingredients” section if you need help understanding measurements.
Preparation: This is the step by step guide to how to make the recipe. Refer to “How to Understand Cooking Terms” if you need help understanding different instructions.
You are almost ready to graduate Kids Cooking 101! Before you can graduate, you have a few homework assignments:
- Read the Vegan Ranch Dip recipe and look for all the cooking terms in it. Do you know what they mean?
- Make the Vegan Ranch Dip recipe (or a different easy recipe). Don’t forget to ask permission first and to clean up after.
- Start finding more recipes to try. Look in cookbooks, magazines and on the Internet. The more you cook, the better you’ll get AND the more delicious food you get to eat!