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Cooking with Kids

The Skinny:

Learn how to include kids of all ages to help in the kitchen. With safety concerns, time restraints and the extra mess, it might seem easier to do everything yourself. Don’t wait for kids to get older before bringing them into the kitchen. Cooking with kids is a great way to bond, teach and share your love of delicious food.

The How-To:

Use a child’s natural curiosity to set them up for making smart food choices. Remember these tips and dare your kids to be creative and learn.

Education on a Plate

Cooking isn’t just about the food. There are different skills and ideas that come together to create a single meal. Besides developing a child’s sense of taste, incorporate other lessons in the time you spend together.

  • Reading. Practice reading skills by going over recipes and ingredient names.
  • Logic. As you go over a recipe, reinforce the importance of process.
  • Math. With weights, measurements, multiplying and dividing, prepping your ingredients is a perfect review of important math skills.
  • Science. Going over simple chemical reactions and how things change with heat and cold are easy lessons in chemistry.
  • Sensory Development. Going over touch, taste, sight and smell of initial ingredients and the final dish help young ones strengthen their senses.
  • Courtesy. Remind kids how to be respectful if they don’t like how a dish tastes. If you have multiple kids helping, stress the importance of being a team and taking turns. Kids can also help set, serve and clean the table.
  • Cultural Awareness. Learn about the world with ethnic ingredients and authentic cuisine.

Age Appropriate Activities

Children can start helping in the kitchen, with adult supervision, as early as age two. Younger kids will work on their motor skills while older kids will work on their mental skills. Choosing the most suitable tasks can make the process more challenging and fun.

  • Preschool. Preschoolers are working on muscle control and developing fine motor skills. Give them hands-on activities like washing food, tearing veggies, stirring ingredients and kneading dough.
  • Elementary School. Elementary school kids are perfecting fine motor skills (intricate movements in hands and fingers) and developing their brain power. Increase their duties in the kitchen by locating specific ingredients, boiling food, using measuring equipment and cutting soft food with an appropriate knife. You can also talk about nutrition and have kids help plan the weekly menu.
  • Teens. Help teenagers focus on independence, creativity and problem-solving skills. Encourage them to take the lead in preparing meals so they’ll be more comfortable cooking for themselves. Introduce life skills like living on a budget and encourage green habits like recycling and composting. Let them get creative with presentation and garnishing. Have them browse their favorite cooking websites to find new recipes they wish to try.

Responsible Food Practices

It’s never too early to learn about safety. Get kids to learn to respect the space they’re working in. All kids need to be supervised and made aware of smart kitchen practices.

  • Keep Kitchens Safe. Use kid-safe utensils, butter knives or disposable plastic knives to avoid injury. When appropriate, guide children through basic cutting skills. Have kids tie back long hair and wear appropriate clothing to avoid safety risks. Small children should avoid heat sources and appliances.
  • Properly Handle Food. Talk about the potential danger of eating raw food and cross contamination. Use separate cutting surfaces for meat, fish, poultry and vegetables.
  • Reinforce Proper Hygiene. Have kids wash hands before touching any food or utensils. Advise kids what to do if they have to sneeze and to avoid touching their face, hair and other body parts once they’ve washed. Set up a clean work area by cleaning all cooking surfaces before and after the food has been made.

When cooking with kids, give yourself more time and expect the extra mess. Going into it with the right mindset will help ease any frustrations. Don’t use special events as the only time kids can help. Working on the fly with instant or pre-cooked ingredients will show them that there’s always time to cook well and spend quality time with the family. Until next time, Enthusiasts.

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