Home Economics

Home Economics
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My daughter has been sick for the last few days with some nasty virus from school. Yesterday, she got bored of watching movies, reading and just lying around feeling below par, so I suggested we try something fun: Our very own cupcake wars! I took a deep breath, as I knew that this would entail a horrendous clean-up, but sometimes kids need to have fun making a mess – and yesterday was one of those days!

Eying my fruit bowl of apples, that needed using up, I decided on an apple strudel type of cupccake. However, my daughter warned me that I needed to have a “theme” going on. She made me promise that I wouldn’t help her “at all!”. She didn’t want me poking my nose in and controlling her, which admittedly is super hard for me not to do, especially in the kitchen. Thankfully, she’s watched me for years (she’s now 10) cooking and baking, so she must have picked up many of the rudimentary techniques needed for making a simple cake – I was impressed.

The problem came when she was looking for the electric mixer to cream the butter and sugar. The paddle/whisk things had disappeared and at eight at night, there was no way I was going to haul my seven quart KitchenAid mixer out of the laundry room.  “You’re just going to have to do it by hand,” I said. She began to stir. “You’re going to need a lot more elbow-power than that!” I explained.

“Mom, this is too much like hard work!” she said, almost breaking a sweat.

“I know, but you’ve gotta do it. I had to when I was at school.”

“You did this at school?” she asked, incredulously.

“Yep – we had cooking or Home Economics at least once a week.”

As she continued to attempt to “cream” the stiff mixture, I remembered that beginning at pretty much her age, we had full-on home economics classes, where we learned all the basics. Back in the “dark ages” as my daughter kindly refers to my childhood, we didn’t use electric mixers in class – everything was done by hand. We had to learn to whisk egg whites until stiff with a hand whisk, which took forever. We also learned the perfect way to crack eggs into a bowl quickly, how to grease a pan, cut an onion, and even make a basic white Bechamel sauce.

As Lola emptied half a canister of cinnamon into her bowl – oops – I realized that most kids today don’t learn kitchen basics. In most public schools, anything outside of the core curriculum is now considered an “enrichment” class, which most schools cannot afford, however, back in the old days, home economics, was considered an integral part of a kid’s education. In the middle/high school I went to, in the cooking classes, boys and girls learned life skills that they would never forget.

Every kid knew how to cook a meal for themselves and their family from scratch. Through the process, we also learned about the value of food and the science of cookery. We were empowered. Most of the cookery classes that my daughter has done to date, have frankly, been rather lame: They’ve learned how to make pizzas (the dough was bought in), cookies, and maybe a cupcake if lucky – no big learning curve there!

I know there’s only so many hours in the day,  but since young kids don’t get to learn  kitchen basics at school, it’s become something that we as parents really need to address. With the rise of childhood obesity and generally bad eating habits across the board, we all need to become “Jamie Oliver’s”  in our own kitchens. Even if it’s for under an hour a week – just giving your child responsibilities in the kitchen is so valuable. If you get your child to help you whisk eggs, beat-up batter, make a soup from scratch etc, being with you in the kitchen can become a really satisfying experience. I’m always surprised at how much responsibility I can give to even a ten year-old – she always figures it out. But if I don’t give her the opportunity to make mistakes, which always involves a mess and/or wastage, she’ll never learn.

My apple strudel cupcakes got second place. Although barely edible, her “Smore” cupcakes were topped with a mini campfire. As we didn’t have marshmallows, she improvised by attempting to “inject” condensed milk into the center of each cake – you can only imagine what happened when my husband was forced to bite into it when he got back from work.

Next on the agenda? I’m going to set a family challenge: Who can make the best healthy meal for under 10 bucks. This is going to be a tough one because my husband has quite a few recipes up his sleeve from his college days. I’ll take Lola to the grocery store so she can start working out how much things actually cost – especially organic foods. The great lesson here is that pre-packaged, processed and convenience foods are more expensive than basic staples such as rice, beans, legumes and veggies (especially when purchased in bulk.) Admittedly, I’m at a huge advantage because there’s a whole chapter in my book, The Gorgeously Green Diet, about how to make a Gourmet Organic family meal for the same price as a Burger King meal, however, I don’t doubt my family will pull out all stops to beat me…I’ll keep you posted.

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Sophie Uliano is New York Times best-selling author and leading expert in the field of natural health and beauty, who takes a down-to-earth approach to beauty focusing on what's truly healthy. Join my masterclass to get started.