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Mardi Michels: Why it’s important to cook with kids!

Mardi portrait

In my day job as a French teacher to elementary school boys, it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in the “teaching” part of my job.

But teaching is about more than just teaching the academics. And, truth be told, one of my favourite parts of the week is the time I spend with my students outside the classroom – in the after-school cooking clubs that I have been running for the past four years – Les Petits Chefs and Cooking Basics.

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Since I started running these clubs, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know my students outside the classroom, and it’s such a rewarding part of my job.

Over the past few years I’ve really learned how important it is for kids to learn where their food comes from and how to prepare it. Here are some of my top reasons.

1. Bring Back Home Ec !

Sadly, “home ec” is not a compulsory subject so we’re seeing kids graduating from high school who don’t know how to cook (or clean, or repair things, or make things for that matter).

Many of these students are heading off to university and living away from home for the first time – how are they supposed to fend for themselves if they haven’t been taught?

DSC_3630(Photo via  eat. live. travel. write.)

I believe as a teacher it’s my job to educate my students – and not just about the subject I teach – so if I can even do a small part in teaching a handful of kids every year about better food choices and how to make more economical and healthful meals at home, then I’m happy.

2. Cooking gives a lot of kids the chance to really shine!

I’m a French as a second language teacher for most of the day. Even though we have a lot of fun in my classes, it’s definitely not everyone’s favourite subject and for some students it’s not an easy subject. 

What I love about having the opportunity to teach the boys outside the French classroom is that I get to see them in a totally different context and it’s one where so many of them shine. 

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Kids, especially boys, like to be “doing” something and cooking classes gives them the change to be active but in an organized manner.

The “hands on” aspect of cooking is one that allows them to channel their creative energies into something productive which, as any teacher will tell you, can only be a great thing!

3. Cooking is fun!

As a teacher, it’s great to be able to share a passion other than the one for the subject I teach with my students. For them to see me teaching a totally different “subject” is often eye opening for them and I do find that the more fun I’m having, the more enthusiastic I am, the same goes for my students.

DSC_4049(Photo via  eat. live. travel. write.)

If you think cooking is fun, so will the kids you are cooking with. Things won’t always go as you plan them when you’re working with kids in the kitchen but that’s ok because it’s real life! Teaching them what to do when things go wrong (and adopting a positive attitude about it!) is just as important as teaching them to cook!

Things won’t always go right when they are cooking on their own in the real world but if they know what to do or how to solve a kitchen problem, they’re far less likely to throw in the (dish)towel and order takeout. 

Relax and show them how much fun cooking can be (even if things sometimes go wrong!).

4. Kids CAN cook!

Kids in the kitchen will surprise you. They also have a certain “can do” attitude that even I wish I had more of.

Recently we were working in a professional kitchen making chocolate ravioli – the thought of which delighted and terrified me at the same time – how on earth would the chocolate pasta dough work? – and I watched amazed as boys who had never made pasta before (let alone the chocolate version!) just rolled their sleeves up and got on with it!

DSC_6366(Photo via  eat. live. travel. write.)

From making the dough to rolling it out and then plating it exquisitely, they did a great job and all in under an hour.

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No fuss, no worried “I hope this will work out” looks on their faces.  It’s an attitude I need to import into my own culinary exploits – I realize I spend far too long worrying about if a dish will work  (because I have read it’s “hard”) when I should just get on with it and have a go. Like the boys.

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Though I started the club using a kids’ cookbook, I quickly realized that they were a little bored with the dishes we were making there and that they could do way more.

We’ve subsequently worked though a lot of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks – real food recipes that give kids a chance to see how easy some of their favourite dishes are to make at home – and I’ve started a guest chef programme where I invite chefs and food enthusiasts from around Toronto to work with the boys. 

They’ve had some amazing experiences and you’d be surprised at what we can achieve in an hour – molecular cuisine anyone?!

DSC_5802(Photo via  eat. live. travel. write.)

Sometimes the boys go to cook in restaurant kitchens, which is always a huge success too!  Some memorable trips include going to The Gallery Grill where they made pasta from scratch and Lisa Marie where they made deep fried mini meatball pizzas!

DSC_4697(Photo via  eat. live. travel. write.)

They also made Caesar salad at Luma, Choux pastry at The Gallery Grill, competed in an “Iron Chef” type cook off at En Ville, made Panna cotta at Rennaissance Hotel and checked out The National Club.

So, give kids some credit – raise the bar and watch them come up to meet you!

5. It’s MORE than just cooking!

Of course, when you teach kids cooking, you’re teaching them basic kitchen skills but you’re also teaching them so much more.  Reading comprehension is an inherent part of following a recipe. Math is a huge player in cooking as well. Not to mention problem solving.

It’s not just cooking, it’s life skills.


If you’re keen to get cooking with your kids, check out Food Revolution Day – Friday May 16th – a day of global action to get kids excited about food.

Sign up, get involved, cook with your kids!

Look for Michels’ guest blogs every Saturday in May

Check out our profile of Mardi Michels here.

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