Preppy Kitchen cook John Kanell explains how cooking is like math

John Kanell, the food blogger behind Preppy Kitchen, says her husband, Brian, loves a controversial pizza topping: pineapple. (Photo: John Kanell; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

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With three million Preppy Kitchen YouTube subscribers and over one million Instagram followers, John Kanell is on a mission to bring home fresh, family-friendly recipes that everyone can enjoy together.

In her new cookbook, Preppy cuisine: recipes for seasonal dishes and simple pleasuresKanell compiles the favorite meals that he, his 5-year-old twins, George and Lachlan, and her husband, Brian, cook together.

The family lives on a farm in Connecticut, so seasonality and farm-fresh ingredients are always on the menu. Kanell cites pizza night as a favorite weekend activity, starting with making the dough from scratch, then adding sauce, cheese and favorite toppings. “For Brian,” Kanell says, “it’s extra pineapple. That’s it. The boys like it plain and I like olives, mushrooms, and peppers.”

Snacks are also seasonal at Kanell. In the summer, he goes to the garden and picks anything ready and ripe – like tomatoes and fresh herbs – and pairs them with cheese and nuts to snack on while he’s behind the stove. In the winter, it’s all about creamy mac and cheese and stews filled with tender braised root vegetables. He also likes a between-meal yogurt parfait, preferably thick Greek yogurt or Icelandic skyr, filled with fresh fruit, granola, and nuts.

Although Kanell’s home cooking propels her culinary fame on social media, it doesn’t come out of thin air. He grew up cooking alongside his Mexican mother. “I always say I’m a mom-learned chef,” he says. “We didn’t go to restaurants because my mom always made these beautiful three-course meals. She grew up in a small village in Mexico with fresh ingredients and everything made from scratch.”

Kanell says the most important lesson for him in the kitchen was to be confident in his own abilities and to enjoy experimentation. “You find new things, try them, see what works, and learn if it doesn’t,” he says.

This attitude stems not only from his years cooking with his mother, but also from his previous career as a middle school math and science teacher, which he did for more than 10 years. His experience as a teacher sheds light on his approach to cooking: a look at just one of his recipe videos on YouTube gives insight into this, as he explains the scientific reasons behind the exact weighing of ingredients, shares this what could happen if you don’t follow cooking instructions to the letter and offers other detailed – yet accessible – information with which you can impress your friends while they watch the magic happen in your kitchen.

“Math anxiety is like cooking anxiety,” says Kanell. “To be successful in either, you need to be prepared and have the right tools. Cooking involves having the right ingredients and reading the recipe carefully.”

“You can be successful, love what you do and have a good time in the kitchen,” he adds.

Letting kids experiment, discover and learn is key to getting them active in the kitchen and helping them in the kitchen, he says. “A lot of parents worry that their kids don’t have the fine motor skills to help them,” says Kanell. “Start by helping them measure things: if they can pour sand into a bucket at the beach, they can pour a scoop of flour into a bowl.”

Kanell also suggests that kids whisk and mix the ingredients with a spoon early on. “You just pre-measure things for them and they can take the recipe from there,” he says. Kanell suggests trying “mixed-up” recipes first — like pancakes and cornbread — where there’s no machinery involved to get little fingers stuck.

Why is it important to involve your children in the kitchen? Kanell says showing them where their food comes from is key and letting them know what they eat. “They feel like part of the family unit,” he told Yahoo Life, “not just accepting food, but helping prepare it. Kids love the feeling of having assistance.”

In fact, that’s why he and her husband moved to their farm in the first place. “We wanted our children to have a better connection to the land,” he explains. “We wanted them to have their own vegetable garden where they could choose which vegetables to plant, grow and harvest. It’s valuable to us, and we hope it becomes valuable to them as well.

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