We’ve all heard the importance of involving children in cooking. Kids who make food tend to eat better at meals, make healthier food choices, have more confidence, and try more new foods than their non-cooking counterparts. But involving kids in the kitchen can be scary business for parents. Every inch of the kitchen seems to hold a potential for danger, from burns to cuts and everything in between.
But parents need not fear. By teaching more than just cooking, your little chef will learn much more than how to make a meatloaf. Before you know it, your child will be your official sous-chef!
1. Involve your child in planning meals. Children can help you plan, from selecting dishes to shopping for ingredients. No matter what your child’s age, you can allow them to make choices about meals. For younger children, a choice can be as simple as, “Should we buy white onions or yellow onions?” Older children can help you decide what to serve each night, or they can even plan one full meal each week.
2. Talk about safety precautions plainly. Don’t induce fear about sharp knives, small appliances, or a hot stove. Instead, explain the function of potentially dangerous items to your child in terms that he or she can understand. If you are using a chef’s knife, introduce it by name to your child and ask them to watch you use it. Talk about how the knife needs to be very sharp so you can easily cut food into little pieces, and how even Mommies and Daddies have to be very careful so they don’t get hurt. Let them know that you will teach them to use it when they are older, but it is important for them to learn how to use other kitchen tools first.
3. Give your child special, age-appropriate jobs to do. Children view cooking as a grown-up activity, and they love to do things that make them feel “big”. Two to three-year-olds can help by pouring, stirring, and washing fruits and vegetables. Children who are four to five years old can cut soft foods with a plastic knife, knead dough, and use cookie or biscuit cutters. School age children can handle more dexterous tasks such as peeling vegetables, grating cheese, and cooking at the stove top (with proper help and supervision).
4. Find kid role models. Kids are taking center stage in the kitchen like never before. Check out a cooking show featuring kids on television, or explore blogs about kids who cook. Books are another great way to showcase safe, age-appropriate cooking. Giulia and Mum Make a Pizza is centered around a three-year-old girl helping her mother make one of their favorite dinners. You can find it on our digital library, alongside many other books featuring family togetherness in the kitchen.
5. Let them see you make mistakes. If something goes wrong, admit it, laugh about it, and move on as best as you can. It’s important for children to see that all is not lost because of an error, even in the kitchen. Invite your child to help you problem solve solutions to fix the mistake. For example, if eggshell falls into the mixing bowl, ask your child to help you think of a way to get it out. If he or she suggests an unsanitary or unsafe solution, talk about why that isn’t an option then propose a new idea.
6. Expect a mess. Toss any magazine photo ideals that you may have of happily baking cookies with your child in a shiny-clean kitchen, a faint sprinkle of flour on your apron. It’s just not going to happen. Messes are bi-products of cooking with kids, so it’s best to expect them. But just as you should expect a mess, you should expect your children to tidy up with you afterwards. Clean-up is part of cooking, and it is best to teach that from early on. Tiny tots can carry plastic bowls, tools, and wooden spoons to the sink, and older children can help load the dishwasher or even hand-wash dishes. Remind your children that working together gets the job done quickly, leaving more time to enjoy the delicious food you just made!
One of the best parts of cooking with children is the bonding that comes along with it. There is something comforting about working in the kitchen that encourages kids and parents alike to share stories with one another. By encouraging your child to cook, you’ll be inviting them to create fun memories that they’ll treasure for a lifetime.