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A kitchen is a fascinating place for children — the enticing smells, steaming pots, heating ovens, and delicious foods act like magnets and draw them in. Along with great food, though, the kitchen is also a great place for teaching.
Younger kids can watch how it all comes together and help with small tasks, like mixing or setting the table. Older kids can help with measuring and adding ingredients, and even teens can be pulled in when they get to choose meals and help prepare them.
It will seem like fun to the kids, but there’s more to it than just that:
Preschoolers see how the dishes they eat are put together and they get hands-on experience, which is a great way to learn and feel like they are helping out.
School-age children can learn cooking basics and use their math skills as they help combine ingredients for recipes. You can also use the time to talk about good nutrition and why you chose the ingredients you're using. It can lay the groundwork for healthy eating later on.
Teens will discover different cuisines and grow from taking ownership of meals. They also get good experience for when they’re on their own and get to cook for themselves.
Parents get something out of this kitchen togetherness, too. There's the quality time you'll share creating the meal and then there's the pleasure of sitting down at the table together to enjoy what you've whipped up.
Here are tips to get the most of this together time in the kitchen:
Choose the right time
When kids are helping in the kitchen, you don’t want to be on a tight time schedule. Instead of involving them on a time-crunched dinner during the week, enlist their help on a weekend afternoon when you and they have more time to relax and have fun.
With younger kids, choose a time when they are well-rested and less likely to be frustrated.
Choose the right tasks
Plan ahead when deciding what to cook together. For younger kids, you can start with simple dishes with few ingredients. Then your child won't have to wait it out while you tackle a complicated step. A tossed salad or easy muffin recipe can be good starter projects. You also might set up a pizza-making assembly line where kids can choose their own mini-crusts, sauces, cheeses, and toppings. Older kids can take cooking to the next level and work with you on more challenging recipes.
When you've chosen a recipe, think about which steps your child can do independently. For instance, kids who can read can call out the ingredients from the recipe while you put them out on the counter. A younger child can help you pour ingredients into a bowl. An older child might be able to measure out ingredients and add them unassisted.
Doing some prep work in advance, such as rinsing the berries for muffins, will make the process move more swiftly. If there's a lull in the action, you might consider giving your child a well-deserved break. Then you can call him or her back in when there's another kid-friendly task to do, or when it's time to taste what you made.
Stress safety and good hygiene
Now's the time to teach kids good kitchen safety and hygiene.
- Teach your kids the importance of washing their hands before they cook and after working with products like poultry and beef.
- Teach your younger kids to not touch whirring electrical beaters, hot pans, and stovetops.
- Teach your older kids proper knife handling skills.
- Also, teach older kids about the different kitchen appliances and how to use each one.
- Teach your kids about food safety and making sure foods are cooked to proper temperatures and stored safely when they're not being eaten.
Most kids aren’t going to be neat and clean in the kitchen — even adults have trouble with that! To have more fun, allow for extra messes and be patient.
Whether or not things go perfectly, and whether or not the food turns out as planned, try to keep the mood light. If the egg gets more smashed than cracked, offer some guidance and let your child try again. Little by little, kids will gain these skills and feel great once they're mastered. Be sure to compliment your assistant chefs on a job well done. Offer them the first taste of whatever you cooked together and ask what you should make together next time.
For more helpful ways to build healthy habits for your children, visit IntermountainLiVeWell.org.