Last year, my son suddenly got interested in cooking. When his birthday rolled around, we wanted to get him a present that would support his newfound interest. A chef’s knife? A great frying pan? Good ideas, but both felt like things for our kitchen, collectively, vs. something for him.

A friend suggested a cooking class, and I entertained the idea for a while (this was back in the pre-Covid era). There are those one-off classes like the kind at Sur La Table, which are fun but mostly about getting together with a bunch of adults and eating something tasty rather than about teaching techniques. The other option involves much more serious, weekly classes, which we worried would just feel like school to him. He’s already in high school, does he need his leisure activity to make him feel like he’s back in the classroom on weekends? Nope.

As I searched and browsed and asked everyone I knew for suggestions, it finally hit me like a bolt of lightning: How about one of those meal kit services?

My husband and I pondered it, worrying about the cost vs. the potential for waste, plus the pressure it might put on him. And then, after much debate plus a scouring of articles that compared all the different meal kids by cost, level of difficulty, and types of ingredients, we made the call and did it. And hoped for the best.

It exceeded our hopes. Here’s why it was such a perfect gift:

It Let Him Be independent

He chose the meals he wanted to make and decided when he wanted to make them. He based it on his own schedule and his own tastes—whether that meant food he already liked or food he wanted to try. He didn’t need a ride to a class, he didn’t have to skip one if he had too much homework on a certain night. It was all in his hands, which is how it’s going to be when he moves out.

He Learned a Lot About Food

There are four of us with widely different tastes: My daughter is fussy and only likes a handful of meals, my husband loves traditional foods that horrify me like meatloaf and beef stew, I like tangy, zesty foods with an Asian influence and hate cooked vegetables, and my son likes pretty much everything. With the meal kit, he got the chance to experiment without having to worry about anyone else’s food issues. He didn’t have to buy a large supply of any ingredient that wouldn’t get used, as the kits have just enough of each one for the meal he’s making.

He Gained Confidence

The more he cooked, the more he learned, and the more he learned, the more he realized his options could go far beyond the meal kit. He mastered, by his own trial and error, how to cook beef, chicken, and pork (he’s not really a fish guy, sadly). On nights he wasn’t using the kit but wanted to cook, he knew he could pull something together because he’d already done it so many times.

Lots of Instant Gratification

The meals all took about 30 minutes to an hour, and once he was done he’d get to sit down to a delicious meal. Since the kits we chose served two, he also got to share them with whichever one of us was interested. He learned by doing, then ate his creations, and got to hear praise from us as we happily devoured the fruits of his labors.

Training for His Future

My boy heads off to college next year, and now he knows how to make a meal—a lot of meals. He knows how to clean up after himself. He knows what his ingredients should look like when he’s shopping for them. 

He can use his skills to make sure he’s eating well even when college gets stressful, and he can also use them with the friends he’s going to make, who might even want to cook with him. It was pretty surreal to walk into the kitchen and find two teenage boys happily making us dinner, but his friends were as interested in the meal kits as he was. 

Also, when it comes to romance, he’ll be all set! I just hope whoever he brings home one day isn’t expecting a gourmet meal from the parents whose cooking skills have already been surpassed.

About Laurie Ulster

A transplanted Canadian living in New York, Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She writes about pop culture, lifestyle topics, feminism, food, and other topics for print, digital, podcasts, and TV.

View all posts by Laurie Ulster

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