How Not to Make Cooking Fun

Last week, CBS KPIX-TV Channel 5 came by our test kitchen to film three kids, Gamespot editor Ricardo Torres, and me playing with Nintendo’s latest video game, “Let’s Get Cooking.” The game was released after Michelle Obama challenged video-game makers to create games that would get kids exercising and cooking more, part of her Apps for Healthy Kids initiative.

After a weekend of playing it at home and another day of playing it with Leo, Matt, and Alley, three eighth-graders from the Bay Area, we concluded that it’s not really a game, nor is it very fun. It’s merely an instructional digital cookbook compiled by America’s Test Kitchen, which prints the nerdy and informative but somewhat dry Cook's Illustrated magazine.

Nintendo was smart to choose Cook's for their recipes’ accuracy. Having worked as an intern at Cook's Illustrated many years ago, I can vouch that their recipe-testing process is rigorous. But Nintendo couldn't have chosen them for entertainment value. The recipes are often complicated and the instructions dull. And why would they say that a recipe takes 580 minutes to make? You mean I have to do the math to figure out how many hours that is?

The three teenagers said the game was cool, but I think they were trying not to offend. The KPIX reporter eventually got their true feelings out on camera. (See the clip.) I think they meant that the idea of a cooking video game is cool. After making chicken marsala with them, I could see how much these kids want to cook. The reporter told them there wasn’t time for the second recipe, hummus, and they were bummed out. I was too. I was having fun teaching them.

Those kids didn't need a game to get them into the kitchen, they just needed the opportunity. We all need to encourage them to follow recipes or get creative; to let them make a mess (and clean it up). It has consequences, sure, including cuts and burns. I don't know why we fear letting them into the kitchen. Maybe it’s because we’re too tired after work to cook much, let alone help our kids cook.

My 15-month-old niece can’t get enough of watching me clank the pots and pans, mix cocktails, or stir risotto. I keep her at a distance, obviously, but she loves watching, and doing. Shucking fava beans and putting the cut vegetables into a bowl is her job, and she loves it.

Do kids really need a video game to learn how to cook? I suppose if I had a child who was glued to his Game Boy and I could do nothing to change that, I would get him a Wii Fit or a cooking video game. “Let’s Get Cooking” is a start on Nintendo’s part, but I’m still looking for the video cooking game that is actually a game and actually fun. I guess I’ll just have to wait until the Apps for Healthy Kids contest submission period ends on June 30th.

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