Cooking is one of the most rewarding activities you can do with, and for, your kids. Whether it’s scooping cookie dough onto a baking sheet or tearing lettuce leaves, even the youngest children like to get in on the action in the kitchen. Spending time together in the kitchen with older children and teens gives you a chance to catch up with each other in a low-key, familiar environment while you cook.
At every age, learning to accomplish a task in the kitchen can build confidence and teach teamwork.
Cooking may help children become happier adults
CNN_underscored cited a study showing that kids who develop strong cooking skills are more inclined to practice healthy eating habits as adults. The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior noted that having confidence in the kitchen led to “fewer fast food meals, more meals as a family, and more frequent preparation of meals with vegetables in adulthood.”
New parents do more home cooking
While home cooking declined in the US in the late 20th century, cooking overall increased from 2003 to 2016, according to a Nutrition Journal article. Kids are one of the reasons why.
According to an article about the NPG Group’s Inside America’s Kitchens study:
- Millennials start to sharpen their cooking skills once children come along.
- The number of people who consider themselves to be a “very good cook” increases by 50 percent when there are children in the home.
- New cooks give retailers a chance to introduce tools that can make meal preparation easier (like easy-cleaning glass-ceramic cooktops).
In Denmark, teachers let students bake a special type of cake to help teach problem-solving and build community. They bake the cake and eat it while talking and listening, airing problems in a “safe and cozy atmosphere.” It’s part of a national effort to instill empathy, or the ability to read another person’s emotions, a critical life skill.
Cooking with kids requires extra time and patience, but it’s worth the effort.
Preschoolers obviously aren’t ready for the heat of a cooking hob or sharp knives, but they can start to pick up valuable kitchen skills. Make sure the time is right for your child, too – a tired or hungry youngster won’t be in the mood for cooking.
As they mature, cooks-in-training will step up to the various stages of meal planning, preparation and presentation. They’ll get used to doing the dishes, too.
10 basics for cooking with kids
- Safety first! Always supervise children in the kitchen.
- Wash your hands before you begin – yours and theirs.
- Set age-appropriate rules regarding the cooktop and the oven.
- Make sure the handles of pans are turned in when cooking on the stove, so they can’t be knocked off or pulled down.
- Create a safe work area for preschool-age children. When they can stand and balance well, place a sturdy stool in front the counter – away from the cooking hob or oven.
- Break the job into tasks. Simply showing a little one how to pour cereal into a bowl can be a fun learning experience (expect a spill or two).
- Let younger kids wash vegetables (stand by with a towel to sop up the water).
- Start younger children off with plastic knives or a dull butter knife. With supervision, even a toddler can learn to safely cut up soft foods, like a banana or a peeled cucumber. Show your child how to hold a knife by the handle with the blade pointing away from their body. Then teach them to rock the knife up and down to slice.
- Point out (in an age-appropriate way) how important it is to read the recipe and assemble all the necessary ingredients and utensils in advance. Accomplished chefs make a habit of knowing exactly what ingredients are needed for a recipe and what steps to take well before they fire up the cooktop. It’s a great lesson for budding cooks.
- Describe the ingredients you’re using. Even very young kids can learn the names of ingredients and the difference between wet and dry ingredients.
- Demonstrate how to hold a bowl while gently mixing its contents – eggs work well for this. Use a metal or plastic bowl; the type with rubber grips on the bottom are ideal.
- Encourage kids to taste small pieces of different foods you’re using to prepare a meal. Ask them if they think what you’re cooking needs anything, like salt, and add a pinch if your junior helper recommends it. Tasting is an important part of cooking.
- Practice baking. The scent of baking pastries and bread brings everyone into the kitchen, especially kids. What’s more adorable than a little kid licking a wooden spoon or smiling up at you with flour on their nose? Baking also offers school-age children an opportunity to show off (or polish) their math skills by measuring ingredients, doubling the amount of a recipe, or converting oven temperatures based on the appliance.
Now you’re cooking
Parents, grandparents, family members, teachers – anyone who supervises children in the kitchen – can usually tell when a child is ready to “cook.”
Teach beginning cooks how to safely work with a cooking hob and an oven. Appliances vary, so be sure to explain the details about the stove, coffee maker, toaster oven and other tools in your kitchen.
Cooktops made with EuroKera glass-ceramic are designed to promote safe cooking. These glass-ceramic cooktops provide superior resistance to thermal shock (rapid changes in temperature), scratches and breaks, along with exceptional cooking capabilities.
Good habits that last a lifetime
Cooking with kids is about bonding and cementing family ties. Family stories, recipes and traditions are passed on in these moments, creating memories from the seemingly mundane task of meal preparation. As a bonus, the effort you put into cooking with your kids may pay off when they start cooking for you.
Children who develop the basic life skill of cooking are more likely to make choices that positively affect their long-term health. When kids help prepare meals, they are more likely to try new dishes or ingredients, and to develop lifelong healthy eating habits.