Some of our helpers have been natural cooks, but others struggle with recipes, shopping and ingredients. Unfortunately, my helper Olivia struggles with all of these things, despite what she told me in the interview. After a few months of alternating between letting her try and taking over in frustration, I have decided to enroll her in a cooking course. After speaking with my friend, I realized others must have these same struggles. Here is how we are working on improving the situation.
For cooking skills, I have enrolled her in a cooking course to improve her skills. She wants to learn and has a good attitude, so I am hopeful that this will encourage her to learn more. The course she is taking is through Expat Kitchen. I suggest that when enrolling your helper in a cooking course, look closely at the recipes in the course, as it is kind of pointless to send her to learn new recipes if they are things you wouldn’t want to eat anyway. Expat Kitchen has improved their recipes. When we lived here before, I was not very happy with the recipes my helper learned. This time around they are made with more fresh ingredients. After each lesson, I ask her which recipes she liked, and we discuss which ones I think our family would like. We choose one or two to sample the next day. Tomorrow we are having roast chicken with vegetables, with lemon and thyme. Last week they taught her to make cheesecake. This one could be dangerous.
Anytime we go out of town, I will be signing her up for a one day course. They have some great choices, like Healthy Thai Eats and Spiralizer Suppers. This will both improve our repertoire and her cooking skills, as well as keep her occupied when the house is empty.
Whenever she has a new recipe to cook, I supervise and help her follow it. I teach her how to measure properly, and encourage her to read the recipe instead of just telling her what to do. Now I only do new recipes on my days off. I don’t add things for her to cook on her own until I have supervised them three or four times and I am certain she can do it.
To help with meal planning, I have been using this brilliant web site called Plan to Eat. You can add your recipes easily, by utilizing a widget that scans the website for the ingredients and directions. No typing required for most of my recipes! A meal planner lets you drag your recipes into each day on the calendar, then it lets you produce a shopping list from those recipes. Now on Sunday nights I can plan my weekly meals, produce a shopping list, and use that on RedMart to schedule deliveries every other day for the meals for those days. I print it out, and post it on the refrigerator. This helps her know what meals are planned and provides a schedule for us. I can add notes to the plans, such as “parents eat out, kids only” and she knows not to cook as much. You can also share recipes with friends here. Anytime I find a new recipe to try, it is super easy to add it to the recipes. I can print them out in recipe cards, too, if they are online.
Unfortunately, the shopping was the thing that had to go. I am particularly picky when it comes to food, and my expectations were not being met. There are cultural differences, priority differences, and education differences that make it a struggle to send someone else to purchase our food. By taking over myself, I was able to eliminate a lot of daily frustration with grocery store decisions and furthermore I save on costs. Since I also work, I enlist RedMart to deliver my groceries, and I only send her to the store for one or two things as needed. It helps keep the peace in my house, since some of her shopping decisions I have trouble following. For example, I asked her to buy bananas. We go through about 4-6 bananas a day in our house. One day she bought really green bananas, like the color of grass. I asked her if the store was out of yellow bananas. She told me no, that she bought us the green ones so they would last longer. What? Another time we were making an Indian curry, and I sent her for coriander. She came back with parsley, because “they don’t have.”
Finally, I suggest cycling through some basic recipes to help your helper get the hang of cooking. Some great examples of must-learn recipes are here. Once your helper has mastered the basics, she can expand to learn more.
Hopefully these tips will help you with your helper in the kitchen. Please let me know if you have any suggestions in the comments!