At CCNS we are all about experiential learning, and one of the best places for this in our house is the kitchen. When my son and I cook or bake together we always have a great time and I feel like he is learning more than I even realize. For those of you interested in starting to have your child join you in the kitchen, or if you have never considered it before, this article is for you! Here are just some of the many reasons to teach your kids how to cook.
- Learning self-reliance: While it is important that our kids get a good formal education, it is also vital that we give them an education in life skills. Yes, with the easy access to restaurants learning to cook a meal at home may not seem vital, but by teaching your kids to cook you will be helping them avoid spending thousands of dollars per year on eating out when they become an adult. Cooking is a valuable life skill that teaches children about nutrition and food safety, as well as building math, science, literacy, and fine motor skills. And as our kids learn cooking basics they will be able to make their own snacks and meals which is one less thing for their parents to do!
- Healthy eating: Getting your child involved in planning, shopping for, or preparing meals (or preferably all three!) helps encourage healthy eating. Teaching kids about fruits and vegetables, lean meats, etc. and healthy ways to prepare them will help them get important nutrients into their diet and can become a tool against obesity. And while not a fool-proof cure, getting your child involved in preparing meals can help with picky eating. Having your child help pick out a zucchini and prepare it for the meal will give them more ownership over it and they are far more likely to try that weird green vegetable in their dinner.
- Bonding: This one is almost too obvious but I still had to include it. Cooking can be a great family activity to make the chore a little more enjoyable. It gives you and your children time together to learn and to talk to them about their day. Enjoy the messes and interaction with your kids, and don’t forget to take a picture to cherish forever.
- Math and science skills: It is impossible to cook without at least a little math, I have a friend who started teaching her kids about fractions through baking! Cooking can help children see math’s practical applications and give them a jump-start on their math skills. Cooking can also help teach lessons in science, such as how different methods of cooking affect the properties of the food, water soluble vs. non-water soluble, and the acidity of certain ingredients just to name a few.
- Appreciation: Our children can learn many fun lessons through cooking, but one of the most important may be to appreciate everything that goes into food preparation. By helping to plan for, shop for, and prepare a meal they begin to realize that meals don’t just appear on the table and they just might start to appreciate food, cooking, and you even more!
Now that you’re convinced, here are some tips to get started!
- Start simple: For a 2-3 year old something as simple as making toast can be overwhelming. Start with the basics, including kitchen safety, and work their way up as they grow and become more comfortable in the kitchen. Teach them a set of rules for the kitchen as well. These can be things like always (always always!) washing hands before cooking, paying attention to the grown up, and most importantly having fun!
- Always supervise: While we want to encourage our children to be as independent as possible, be sure you are nearby. This is especially true if they are stirring something over the stove or using knives (I would recommend getting a set of nylon knives for your kids to use). Remind them of your kitchen rules as needed.
- Expect a mess: Be calm when there is a mess or a spill, there will be many. Cooking with your children will be slower and messier than when you cook by yourself, but as the messes happen and you clean them up together you teach them a valuable lesson that messes happen and cleaning them up is just a part of life.
- Make it a habit: The more you have your kids help out, the easier and more enjoyable it will become. Try to have them cook with you as often as possible, but make sure you don’t try to squeeze it in when there is a big time crunch. Chances are you will run out of time and frustrations will arise (I know this from personal experience), remember that you want it to be an enjoyable experience for you and your kids!
- Give up some control: As I mentioned before there will be messes, and there will be mistakes. Let them happen! It is part of learning how to be in the kitchen, and the more they do it they will improve and be more confident in their abilities in the kitchen.
Kitchen skills by age:
- Preschool (2-5 yrs): Preschoolers can begin to learn basic concepts that they will need in the kitchen. Remember that their attention spans are short, so small tasks are usually best. The following may give you an idea of appropriate tasks for this age group, but you know your child best!
- Stirring batter in a bowl
- Rinsing fruits and vegetables
- Using cookie and biscuit cutters
- Rolling our cookie or pie dough
- Cutting soft fruits and vegetables with a nylon or butter knife
- Measuring liquid and dry ingredients
- Pouring liquid ingredients
- Young chefs (6-8 yrs): As kids learn to read, cooking becomes an opportunity to advance that skill through reading cookbooks and following recipes with your child. Around now is the time to determine if your child is ready to use adult knives, the stove, and the oven. Remember to provide constant supervision! Below are some ideas of skills this age group can begin to master.
- Whisking eggs
- Frosting cupcakes
- Mixing cookie, brownie, or pie dough
- Using a can opener and juicer
- Peeling fruits and vegetables
- Grating cheese with a box or hand grater
- Rolling out cookie or pie dough
- Using paring or other small knives
- Boiling pasta
- Frying eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches
I am going to stop here since most of you have kids that fall into these two categories. If you have older children, or as your children grow older, they can handle more and more responsibility in the kitchen. Keep in mind their ability and maturity level, but don’t be afraid to teach them new or difficult things. As you teach them with love and patience they will likely rise to the occasion and surprise you.
You can find all sorts of recipes online for making with your children. Here are a few links to recipes that I have tried (or plan on trying) that I recommend to get you started. Once you get a few toddler friendly recipes under your belt, don’t be afraid to have your children help you with your favorite family recipes as well!
- Bread in a bag
- Mini Pizza Bites
- Apple Pie Crescents
- Muddy Buddies
- Homemade Butter
- Cheese Crackers
- Fruit Filled Crescent Cups
- Easy Blueberry Muffins
Above all else, just remember to have fun and bond with your child. As you keep cooking together you may just make some memories that will last a lifetime.