Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Home Ec Circa 2012

Home Ec has changed since I was a kid toiling away in the Kumquat Kitchen (they really called it that in honor of the color of the counter tops!). These days it’s called “Family and Consumer Science”, but the kids call it “sewing” or “cooking”. Each of these units last 8 weeks, but are required classes for the two years of middle school here in south central PA.  

When my first child traveled through the curricula of cooking, I was flabbergasted to listen as he regaled what he learned to cook! Smoothies! (is this actually cooking? Isn’t it just “chop, drop, and press the button”?) Coffee drinks! Cake Pops! Cookies! Pancakes! Brownies! It seemed as though if it contained sugar, it was on the menu. By the end of the semester I felt confident that my son could hold his own behind the counter at Starbucks. 

Now as my daughter works her way through the same classes, she corrects me as to the proper names of the cooking instruments. “It’s not a spatula, it’s a turner, mom.” As if I am too ignorant to be trusted with lifting the cookies off the sheet if I don’t even know the proper name for the flipper I’m using! I informed her that the rubber spatula was actually called a “child cheater” and she rolled her eyes and gave up. When I lamented that she wasn’t learning to cook any real food, she protested, “But tomorrow we’re making Cherry Crisp!” Ten to one the cherries come out of a can, loaded with sugar and food dye, and there are no cherry pitters involved in this lesson. 

I appreciate the districts efforts, truly I do, but as I said before, Home Ec has changed. You can’t teach a child to cook in 8 weeks when there are 30 or more kids in the class and you have no budget for fresh ingredients.  

Talk to a young adult these days and quiz them on their cooking abilities. 9 out of 10 will tell you frankly, they don’t cook. And really, they don’t. They reheat, they unwrap, they order out, they “chop, drop, & press the button”, and many of them do not know much about cooking beyond boiling a pot of pasta, and that’s being generous. 

A wonderful young adult from my community has house sat for us on several occasions. This is a former honor roll student, very bright and articulate. When we arrived home from our last trip, she had forgotten to remove her groceries from the week she spent at our house. No problem, I gathered them all up for her. I have a large, well-equipped kitchen, yet every single item required no more than a microwave to prepare. I don’t think she’s outside the norm.

Much attention is focused on the children in this time of the “obesity epidemic” in the US, but take a look around and you’ll see those same children growing in to adults who do not know how to eat healthy. The schools are certainly not teaching them. Nutrition rears its important head during health class and occasionally science, but I would wager to bet it’s not a vital cog in the home economics curriculum where they make such great use of a blender. 

If we want to stem the tide on this epidemic, we must equip our children not only with the knowledge of what foods they should eat to be healthy, but how to cook those foods. What I wouldn’t give for my daughter to come home and announce, “We learned how to cook broccoli today without letting it get mushy!” Sadly, I’m guessing those words will never pass her lips. 

To that end, I instituted a new policy in my house for my two Home Ec grads. One night a week they each are responsible for planning and preparing dinner. My only guidelines were – it needs to be balanced and it needs to include at least two vegetables or fruits. My son took the news of our new policy in stride planning a steady menu revolving around hamburgers. My daughter sighed and slumped and warned that I had to eat what she cooked. Touché!  

My husband assists my son on his night. Being boys, several of the meals have involved the grill. I assist my daughter and she has produced three delicious meals so far that included her major food group - pasta. The first was fettuccini alfredo and baked chicken fingers. I watched from the breakfast bar as she dipped and breaded the chicken, wiping her hands after each piece. I said nothing. They were delicious. Last week she made homemade pesto with the basil from our yard. It was magnificent. The boys opted for plain noodles, but she was triumphant. 

Cooking has a way of transforming my kids. It gives them confidence and skills so that when the time comes they will be able to cook a real meal for themselves and not subsist on frozen dinners. My husband calls my daughter the “apathetic chef” doing a funny imitation of her attitude each week when we inform her it’s her turn. “Whatever,” she says and pretends she doesn’t care. When we ask what she would like to cook she again replies, “Whatever.” But then once she gets started, her interest is peaked and she creates delicious meals. I doubt she would ever volunteer to cook a meal before this trial began, but now I’m certain that she will be cooking circles around me in no time. 

My 10-year-old asked me last night if he could cook dinner. I said, sure, and his eyes lit up. Whatever his older siblings do, he wants to do, but more than that, he hears us having fun together in the kitchen and he wants in on it.

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