by Kara Lampe, PA-C
One of my favorite childhood memories is cooking with my parents. Aprons tied, flour on our faces, we would create, laugh, and little did I know at the time, learn. Cooking together can be a delicious, family-bonding experience. Kids can explore new foods, learn about nutrition, and develop many crucial academic skills, including reading, following directions, math, reasoning, science, language, counting, fractions, budgeting, sequencing, problem-solving, sharing, developing fine motor skills – the list goes on and on.
When you cook with your kids, you are nourishing their bodies, as well as their minds by teaching them invaluable developmental skills. No school setting or professional educator necessary! You have all the tools you need in your very own kitchen. Learning to cook is a skill your children can benefit from for the rest of their lives. And just how old do your children have to be to help in the kitchen? Many start to express an interest at around age two or three, and that’s not too early to start! You can begin with small things like breads, muffins or smoothies, and slowly work your way up to fancier, more intricate recipes.
Here are some simple guidelines to help you make cooking with your kids safe and fun.
1. Planning is Part of the Fun
Encourage your child to explore cookbooks and help choose recipes. Kids can make a list of
ingredients, find them in your kitchen, and/or help shop for them. This teaches children how
to organize and follow through, as well as plan and think ahead.
2. Instill Responsibility
Teach kids to cook responsibly by setting guidelines and rules regarding safety, cleanliness and manners. Then give them tasks to complete independently (or with a little help depending on their age and skill level). Let your kids get messy, let them try, and let them have fun. They’ll be proud to be a part of the action and will step up to the plate as a valued member of your cooking team. (Pun intended!)
3. Mastering Younger Chef Skills
Age appropriate tasks for younger children include washing, scrubbing, dipping, tearing, breaking, snapping, shaking, spreading, peeling, rolling, juicing and mashing. Actions like stirring, mixing and pouring all help with the development of fine motor skills. As children get older and more experienced, they can try more advanced duties such as grating cheese or using an electric mixer, can opener or food processor.
4. Reading and Following Directions
Ask your child to call out ingredients from the recipe or read each instruction aloud as you go. Take this opportunity to sound out words together or discuss the meaning of new words such as “knead” and “sauté” that they may not recognize.
5. Stir Up a Math Problem
Teach your kids simple addition, subtraction, measuring and counting as you cook. Don’t just rely on the instructions; ask questions! “If we need three eggs and we already used one, how many more do we need?”
6. Spark Imagination
Those delicious cupcakes you’re about to eat started as a collection of ingredients ranging from powdery to mushy to wet and everything in between. Cooking teaches kids to use their imaginations and picture what the end result can and should be, rather than focusing only on what is in front of them.
Sharing is caring. You can teach this lesson in the kitchen as you show your kids how to divide responsibilities and work together. One child might want to do all the mixing, but part of the learning experience is teaching him/her to hand over the spoon and watch someone else work. Children learn not only how to socialize with others, but also how to work side-by-side, focusing on their own jobs as a part of a team effort.
8. Introducing New Foods
Children often will try unfamiliar foods when they are transformed into personal “creations.” You can teach nutrition lessons about the foods being prepared. For example: milk, cheese and yogurt contain calcium that helps build strong bones and teeth. Older kids can look up the recommended servings for different food groups at www.choosemyplate.gov
9. Build Self-Confidence
When kids help prepare a meal, they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. The final result (whether it is delicious or a bit of a disaster) is something he or she helped create. The confidence they will develop as a result of their contributions to the family is something that will stay with them as they grow. And there is nothing cuter than watching children proudly serve their cooking creations.
10. Accept That Not All Kids Enjoy Cooking
Children who don’t wish to cook can still contribute to the meal by washing produce, taste testing, setting the table, folding napkins, deciding which platters to use and garnishing dishes. Kids may also love using a mop or dustpan to help with the clean-up process.
Enjoy this special bonding time with your family! Oh, and if you are looking for taste testers, our office staff is always willing!
Some of my favorite cooking with kids sites: