Some of my fondest memories from childhood come from standing on a chair in the kitchen, helping my mother make cookies. In my mind, the light is warm, the people are happy, and the batter is delicious. As an adult with a small child, I would let my daughter make an unholy mess in the kitchen when I cooked – she would pour spices and flour all over the floor, sniff herbs, knead dough, and it was just as much fun as I remember. There are times I don’t want to let the kids in the kitchen. It makes such a mess, and if I’m trying to get dinner on the table, I may shoo them away. But after reading this wonderful piece in The New York Times, I’m going to try to do that less. The authors cover five reasons we should cook with kids, and it got me thinking about what an important life skill it is, and how few people are taught the basics.
It also got me thinking about some of the culinary programs offered at camp. Campers are there to learn life skills, independence, and confidence, so learning how to be competent in the kitchen is a great way to get started. Many of our Maine Camp Experience member camps offer a culinary option during the summer. At Camp Vega, for example, campers can opt for a half- or whole-summer cooking experience during which the girls attend class three days a week. The culinary director plans out the recipes, and while treats are on the menu, the focus is on fresh, healthy eating. The girls use fresh herbs and vegetables from the Vega garden, and learn kitchen basics like knife skills and techniques. When the summer is over, campers go home with a stack of recipes to try again at home, along with a renewed sense of self-confidence and excitement having learned a new (and very important!) skill.
At Camp Runoia, the culinary program is a little different, focused primarily on outdoor cooking skills as part of their long tradition of wilderness trips. Campers are involved in all aspects of trip menu planning and meal prep – a great way to try their hand at cooking! From Alex, a director at Camp Runoia:
From an 8 year old flipping their first pancakes to 15 year olds menu planning and cooking meals for a whole week and with everything in between; [the] girls get a taste of independence and begin to build their own life skills around the campfire…Cooking over a camp stove requires good organizational skills, often a menu that needs minimal pots and some creativity for making the meal tasty.
There is often nothing more satisfying than sitting around the campfire with a tin plate and a spork eating a meal that you have waited all day for and that you helped to cook.
I also asked Jon Deren, owner and director of Camp Manitou, for his take on offering cooking at camp. He gave me three key benefits that come from learning to cook, most of which overlap with the Times:
Encourages An Adventurous Palate
“Many of our young campers are picky eaters. They like plain foods. Beginning with plain ingredients that they like, campers learn to build and enjoy more complex meals that they wouldn’t normally like if it was served to them by their parents.”
“The process of making a meal from scratch offers a great sense of accomplishment for children, especially ones that involve sourcing, calculating, measuring, and combining a variety of ingredients.”
“Working with others to produce a meal involves a number of different skills:
- Math (measuring and calculating ingredient quantities),
- Communication (essential for working with others on shared tasks),
- Collaboration (assignment and order tasks),
- Organization (don’t forget to cleanup), and
For us parents, I think the final benefit of children who can cook is clear – the kids can cook dinner! I can’t wait!
What’s your favorite meal to make in the kitchen with your kids or parents?
Maine Camp Experience Resources & Tools
Looking for the perfect Maine camp for your child? Try out our helpful tool where you can select a camp by choosing: type of camp (girls, boys or coed) and session length (1-8 weeks). It helps to narrow down a few camps to a manageable list that includes rates. Then you can research these camps in more depth.
Next, be sure to contact our Maine Campcierge™ to discuss these camps as well as for free, year-round advice and assistance on choosing a great Maine summer camp for your child.
Talk to Laurie, our Maine Campcierge™, about choosing the right camp for your child and what to do in Maine.