Life Skills as High School Electives: Cooking Basics for Teens

I have realized through the years that there are many things I take for granted, for instance, knowing how to boil water, or crack an egg. It always surprises me how many kids I come across that have not been taught some of the most basic cooking skills. As homeschoolers I think this may happen a little less as our children are home with us and surrounded by cooking happening in real life.  Either way, high school is a great time to be sure our children are prepared to live in out in the world on their one. One great way to do this is by using life skills as high school electives, in this case, cooking basics for teens.

Life Skills as High School Electives: Cooking Basics for Teens from Starts At Eight. Preparing our teens to cook for themselves will both save them money and allow them to eat healthier. Cooking Basics for Teens will help you, help them learn basics such as how to boil water, cut onions, cook chicken, and more!

Welcome to my series Life Skills as High School Electives: Home Economics and Shop Class. In this installment we are covering cooking basics for teens. Many of these things they may have already learned so you can check them right off! Others you may not have covered yet, or even thought of. Be sure to grab my Life Skills as High School Electives: Cooking Basics for Teens printable list at the end of this post!

Cooking Basics for Teens

While I know there are an endless number of things that could be included in this list, I tried to narrow it down to some basics that could also be adapted and used for many cooking tasks.

1. Boiling Water

Boiling water seems simple but it is the basis for many things, such as making pasta, hard boiled eggs or cooked potatoes.  If your kids don’t know how to boil water, there are many things they won’t be able to make or do.

  1. Put water in a saucepan.
  2. Place on burner on high heat.
  3. Let the water come to a full rolling boil. It will appear as though it is bubbling up.

One thing we don’t often think of is the amount of water to use. You have to take into consideration what you are adding to the pot and leave enough room to add that without the water spilling and boiling over.

Another thing to remember is that putting a lid on will trap heat and bring water to a boil quicker.  Also adding salt to the water will drop the boiling point and thus cause it to boil quicker.

2. Hard Boil an Egg

When it comes to boiling eggs, the biggest problem is that people often over-cook them, leading to a dark green color around the yolk.

  1. Place the eggs in a single layer at the bottom of a saucepan and cover with at least 2 inches of cold water.
  2. Bring to a full rolling boil. Adding a teaspoon of vinegar to the water may help keep egg whites from running out if an egg does crack while cooking. Also adding 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the water helps prevent cracking as well as making the eggs easier to peel.
  3. Turn down to a slow rolling boil for 10-12 minutes.
  4. Immediately drain of water and rinse with cold water to cool quickly. This prevents them from cooking any longer.

3. Crack an Egg

So many recipes call for eggs. But if you can’t crack one without getting the shell everywhere it can make for kind of a disaster!

Here is a great WikiHow Tutorial – How to Break an Egg with simple pictures, and short video clips on how to crack an egg.

4. Chop Onion

Onions get me EVERY time! They make my eyes burn like crazy! Slicing, dicing, and chopping onions (or anything) into uniform pieces isn’t just for show, its’ the only way to ensure even cooking.

When using a cutting board, dampen a dish towel to put underneath it to help prevent slippage.

One of the main tricks about cutting onion is how to avoid your eyes burning and tearing up. When you slice an ion, you break cells, releasing what’s inside and allowing amino acid sulfoxides to form sulfenic acids.  This produces a volatile sulfur compound that reacts the water in your eyes to form sulfuric acid. The acid burn your eyes, causing them to release tears to wash away the irritant.

Some ways to help this include:

  • chilling the onion first
  • using a sharp knife
  • keeping exposed cuts in the onion away from you – the second you cut an onion in half, turn both sides down on the cutting board
  • don’t peel the side you aren’t currently chopping

Here is a great video and step by step tutorial on chopping onions – How to Chop an Onion

5. Freeze Hamburger (or anything else)

The following freezing instructions apply not only to hamburger but other things you would freeze as well.

  1. Step one is to be sure you buy not spoiled, sealed, not expired products from the store. If hamburger doesn’t look bright red, you shouldn’t buy it.
  2. At home split the meat into recipe sized portions (we will often us a marker and some tape to label for specific recipes or designate an amount – like 4 chicken breasts or ground turkey for stroganoff.
  3. Use freezer paper, plastic wrap, or foil to wrap each amount individually. Then place in gallon-size freezer bags, forcing all the air out before sealing.
  4. Label with dates, amounts, item type, etc.

Thawing Frozen Meat

There are a few options for thawing frozen meat. Some require more time than others and thus you might chose one based on the amount of time you have before needing the meat.

  1. Thaw in refrigerator by placing it on a plate to catch any liquid that might leak. Allow 24 hours to thaw.
  2. Thaw by placing the bagged item in the sink and immersing in water. Use cold to slightly warm water. If you use hot water bacteria can form. Change water every 30 minutes or so until the meat is thawed.
  3. To thaw in the microwave remove all the wrapping and place on a microwave safe plate. Use the defrost setting on the microwave to slowly and gently thaw the meat. Then cook immediately.

6. Cooking Chicken (pan or roast)

Most meats, including chicken, need to get up to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be safely cooked through. If you’re cooking a whole bird, it should be inserted into the thickest part of the thigh but not touching bone.

Remember, you can’t tell whether meat is safely cooked by looking at it. Any cooked, uncured red meats – including pork – can be pink, even when the meat has reached a safe internal temperature.

Pan Fry

You can pan fry chicken with water, or oil on medium heat. With oil use a tablespoon or two (enough to just cover the bottom or your frying pan). With water you use more because it cooks off faster. Thus using enough to leave a thin layer over the entire pan would apply.

You can also season or marinate the chicken before frying. An easy way to do this is to buy a seasoning packet or bottle of marinade from the store and follow the directions. We often buy chicken breast, cut any fat off, poke holes in the chicken, and place in a bag with a liquid marinade overnight. This offers the best overall seasoning.

Be sure to use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat to ensure proper cooking of the chicken.

Roast

The act of roasting a chicken is fairly universal, however the seasonings you use may not be.  Here is a cooking article – How to Roast Chicken that covers, preparation, seasoning, and roasting a chicken.

With any cooking en devour I highly recommend doing it a few times with your child. Moving from you doing, to them doing each and every step, until you both feel comfortable letting them tackle the entire thing on their own.

7. Steam Veggies

I found an article, “How to Steam Vegetables” that does an amazing job of telling you both the why and the how! Below you can check out some of the “why”, then head over to the full article for the details on the “how”.

Steamed Vegetables: Two Essentials

The key to steaming vegetables is twofold: cut the vegetables into uniform sizes and don’t over-steam them. Pretty logical, right?!

Cut the vegetables into uniform sizes so that they cook at roughly the same rate and are all done at the same time. You can mix vegetables, but be aware that more tender vegetables, like broccoli, will cook faster than denser vegetables, like carrots. If you want to steam mixed vegetables at the same time, add the longer-cooking veggies first and then the quicker-cooking veggies after a few minutes. You can also cut the denser vegetables slightly smaller so that they cook more quickly and finish at the same time as the rest of the vegetables.

My trick for avoiding over-steaming? Set a timer! If I don’t, I’m likely to get distracted with other parts of the meal and forget that the vegetable are steaming away on the back burner. I usually set the timer initially for three minutes, and then continue checking intermittently based on how quickly I think they’re cooking.

I also take the vegetables out of the steamer basket when they still have just a bit of crunch in the middle — by the time I get them to the table, the vegetables have cooked through perfectly without going mushy. Take a look at the guide below for rough cooking times for various vegetables.

How Long to Steam Vegetables

  • Spinach and Arugula: 3 minutes
  • Peas: 3 minutes
  • Broccoli Florets, Cauliflower Florets, Green Beans: 5 to 7 minutes
  • Carrots, Potatoes, Turnips, Squash: 8 to 20 minutes
  • Kale and Collards: 10 minutes

8. Make Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients: 2 lbs of potatoes, 1 cup of milk, 4 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Peel and cut potatoes into medium sized chunks. (The smaller the pieces the fast they will cook.)
  • Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
  • Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes; drain.
  • In a small saucepan heat butter and milk over low heat until butter is melted. (This can also be easily done in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave.)
  • Using an electric hand mixer, slowly blend milk mixture into potatoes until smooth and creamy.

**You can also mix in a small container of French Onion or Ranch dip for added flavor.

NOTE: A Roasted Chicken, Steamed Veggies, and Mashed Potatoes make a simple meal your child can prepare for the family.

9. Make Soup

Begin By Making Stock

Making a stock (broth) is the basis for all soups.

  • You can use bones from meat, woody vegetable trimmings, onion and garlic skins, whole herbs, or limp vegetables. You need a pot large enough to hold all of this and enough water to cover your components.
  • Bring it all to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until you have a flavorful liquid. (This can take 20 minutes to an hour, really however long you have.)
  • Skim the scum from the top and strain, reserving the broth.

Add Main Ingredients

You can find recipes with a simple Internet search, or use whatever you have in the pantry and fridge. With soup the possibilities are endless.

  • Use vegetables, meat, grains, or pastas.
  • We often add leftover white rice, cut chicken, and veggies on their way out to a chicken stock to make a hearty veggie chicken and rice soup.
  • Don’t like chunks? Puree what you add. We love the flavor of onion and celery but not the texture so we puree them to make a thicker base for our soups.
  • Want creamier? Enrich your soup with a little cream, Greek yogurt, sour cream, milk, or nondairy milk such as rice or almond. Start with about 1/4 cup and taste and add as needed.

The Finishing Touches

Use fresh herbs to enhance your soups flavor.

  • Try things like dill, parsley, oregano, basil, or cilantro.
  • Other good toppings are sour cream, shredded cheese, crumbled crackers or french fried onions, crumbled bacon, and croutons.

10. Repurpose Leftovers

Chicken

  • chop for chicken salad
  • slice for sandwiches
  • shred with cheddar cheese inside tortillas for quesadillas
  • make or buy a pie crust (or use the recipe on the Bisquick box) to make chicken pot pie

Ground Beef

  • mix with macaroni and cheese
  • make taco salad
  • make Shepard’s Pie by adding cooked peas and carrots, gravy, and mashed potatoes
  • add to tomato sauce and boil up some pasta for goulash

Cooked Vegetables

  • make a quiche (again Bisquick is great for this)
  • use in vegetable soup
  • make a stir fry with strips of chicken

Any cooking basics for teens that you would add?

Printable List of Cooking Basics for Teens

I have created a printable list of these cooking basics for teens for you to use in your home. You can print it and have your child check off each thing as they learn it. If there are things not on the list you would like to include, add them and talk about why you think they are important skills to have.

FREE Printable List

Click Cooking Basics for Teens Printable List to download the entire list in pdf format!

Cooking Basics for Teens FREE Printable List from Starts At Eight

Life Skills as High School Electives: Home Economics & Shop Class Series

Be sure to book mark this page as this is the landing page for all of them!

Life Skills as High School Electives: Home Economics & Shop Class from Starts At Eight. Teaching your kids life skills is a great way to learn and earn high school credit! Includes FREE Printable Record Keeping Sheets!

Welcome to my series Life Skills as High School Electives: Home Economics and Shop Class. Over the coming weeks I will be talking about essential life skills and how to incorporate them into your high school transcript as high school electives. {Each topic will be linked here as they are completed.}

1. Home Economics

Teaching Life Skills: Chores from Starts At EightLife Skills: Simple Home Repairs from Starts At Eight

2. Shop Class