Your son has just announced that he has decided to become a vegetarian. Or your soccer star daughter declares that she needs to be eating more (or less) carbohydrates, proteins or fats and what you're serving is not making the grade. Or perhaps you've just decided that it's time your kids learn to take care of themselves and help out the family at the same time. Whatever the reason, teaching your child to cook is a valuable and fun endeavor, and using your slow cooker is one way to help ensure success.
1. Work together to find appealing recipes that are either written for or can be adapted by you for use in the slow cooker.
2. Create a shopping list and make sure your son or daughter not only goes to the store but also is in charge of selecting ingredients.
3. Assume you will have to do some handholding the first few times.
4. If your teen hasn't cooked before, start with the basics: the importance of kitchen safety, including hygiene, safe handling of food (keep cold things cold and hot things hot), how to use a knife, how to measure, how to read a recipe and, most importantly, how to clean up.
5. If your child has decided to try vegetarianism, spend some time together consulting a book on nutrition and establish rules for a sensible diet -- and then try to let it go. If need be, you can cook some other dishes to supplement your family's nutritional needs.
6. It's easy to make delicious vegetable broth that can be the base for dozens of soups and stews.
7. Start with slow-cooker-made vegetable or meat stocks and graduate to simple soups that are then pureed in the blender or food processor or, best of all, by the hand-held immersion blender.
8. For any teen looking to eating healthy, but especially for vegetarians, encourage the use of legumes in the form of chickpeas, dried beans, peas and lentils in combination with vegetables. Remind your vegetarian that combining legumes and grains makes a low-fat protein. Pureed peas, beans and other legumes give a thick richness to soup and turn it into a meal all by itself.
9. Teach your teenager to use spices and herbs, both fresh and dried, to get more flavor.
10. Encourage plain, low-fat yogurt as a garnish for soups. It is high in calcium, which many teenagers do not get enough of.
11. Encourage making a double or even triple batch of a recipe and freezing it for later use. This is especially helpful if your child is eating different food from the rest of the family and will keep everyone from getting frustrated. Store the cooked food in a single-meal portion in heavy-duty freezer-strength recloseable plastic bags, which can be quickly defrosted in the microwave oven or by submerging in hot water.
12. Look to your other kitchen appliances such as the blender, rice cooker and bread machine as key tools that allow your teens to cook healthy, wholesome meals, both for themselves and for the whole family.