Cooking is a life skill and should be taught at an early age. Parents, don’t cringe. Even at an early age your kids are handy, smart and resilient. Take the task for what it is: a parent-child bonding experience, a way for parents to take a break from the kitchen and the opportunity to teach children that cooking leads to proud meals, healthy choices and a better life overall. Plus this skill carries into adulthood. A 2014 study released by the U.K.’s Children’s Food Trust showed that children who cook before the age of 8 are 50 percent more likely to prepare at least five meals from scratch a week when they grow up. Don’t take our word for it. Kid Chef Eliana de Las Casas is living proof why now is the time for kids to get in the kitchen.
At first glance Kid Chef Eliana de Las Casas might seem like an anomaly, but the truth is more and more kids are learning to cook from an early age. The 14-year-old grew up among a family of cooks who brought their heritage into the kitchen. A pinch of Filipino, a dash of Cajun and sprinkles of Cuban and Honduran, Eliana likens herself to a gumbo. With two cookbooks, Eliana Cooks! Recipes for Creative Kids and Cool Kids Cook: Louisiana and a global weekly radio show called “Cool Kids Cook” on the VoiceAmerica Kids network, Eliana is leading the kids’ food movement.
M&V: What advice do you have for your fellow peers?
KID CHEF ELIANA: I encourage kids to get in the kitchen and be bold! Taste new flavors and ingredients. My experimenting led me to develop several spice blends that my family and I love to use in our cooking. I emphasize kitchen safety. Master proper cooking techniques, learn knife safety, and always cook with adult supervision. I wrote my first recipe at 4 years old. It wasn’t complicated, but it reflected my passion for cooking. I still have that recipe; it’s for a strawberry cream cheese sandwich. If you are passionate about cooking, go for it!
You’re already so accomplished. Where do you see yourself in 15 to 20 years?
I will definitely still be cooking and writing cookbooks. I want my own line of bottled spices. I’ve already created around seven different spice blends and I’m inventing more. I also envision a line of cookware and chef wear for kids. The cookware would be lighter and smaller for kids to handle with cool, fun patterns, and colors, and they would be labeled. If a recipe says to use a sauté pan, the pan would be labeled “sauté pan.” Last but not least, I see myself having a cooking TV show, and, eventually, a cooking talk show. That dream isn’t be too far down the road. I see my brand becoming a lifestyle brand, with kitchen and home goods. Chef Emeril Lagasse is one of my heroes in this regard.
What has been your favorite “chef” moment thus far?
My favorite moments are when I inspire people. At a cooking demo at my local library, I made my ‘fresh from the garden’ salsa and passed out samples. A dad in the audience approached my mom with tears in his eyes. He said that his 6-year-old daughter refused to eat tomatoes until that day. He said I changed their lives. His daughter even asked for thirds of my salsa! It’s my goal to inspire kids to eat fresh foods.
5 kitchen tools that get the thumbs up from Kid
From parent to parent
From the very beginning Dianne de Las Casas, a children’s book author and avid cook, encouraged her daughter to feel comfortable in the kitchen. She set ground rules and let go, but of course, always stayed within shouting distance to the kitchen. She offers additional advice on how to grow young chefs.
Start them early. Introduce kids to the kitchen when they are toddlers. Allow them to mix, stir, and handle safe kitchen equipment like bowls, spoons and light pans.
Expose them to new tastes. Kids are naturally curious. Allow them to taste what you are cooking. Constantly give them new ingredients to try.
Allow them to be part of the meal planning. When kids are involved with the meal planning, it gives them ownership. They are more likely to eat the meal that you have created together. Take them grocery shopping with you and allow them to pick out new ingredients to try. In our house, we try at least one new ingredient a week.
Teach them proper techniques. Eliana received her first knife at 8 years old. She was always supervised and taught kitchen safety. A good way to allow them to practice knife skills is to get a lettuce knife, which is made of plastic. Let them cut the lettuce for the dinner salad.
Avoid ordering from the kid menu. I believe that allowing kids to order from a restaurant’s kid menu breeds picky eaters. When we ate out as a family, we always gave Eliana samples of what we were eating. This way she was always exposed to new flavors and never developed a bias against “grown-up food” or vegetables. Trying new foods and flavors was always an adventure.