My kids always gravitate to the kitchen. Is there any benefit to having them help me cook?
There is a contagious excitement from kids when they begin discovering the joy of cooking. Simple tasks like cracking eggs or stirring a soup can engage children, leading them on a learning adventure and helping them try new foods through flavor exploration.
Cooking is a natural way to learn about math, science, history and even language arts through hands-on experiences that can enhance their school learning. For younger kids learning to count, line up chocolate chips to give them a visual of what “10” is. Eating one, or two, can demonstrate subtraction. For older kids, have them double or cut a recipe in half to work on fractions. What’s half of 1/3, again?! Sharing food cultures also is a wonderful way to talk about history and social studies. Tell a story about one of the food traditions you have or call up Grandma to learn how a certain tradition was started in your family. You even can tour the world via the spice aisle at PCC and then incorporate the spices you find into your cooking. Find recipes that feature a particular spice by visiting our recipe database, where you can search by ingredient.
If you have a picky eater, cooking with them may be the best way to try new foods. Kids amazingly are more willing to try something they helped make than if you make it and offer it to them. This is especially true with vegetables. Focusing on colors and shapes can be much more successful than talking about how “healthy” it is for them. Kids respond better to food that makes them “powerful” or “strong.” Try our recipe for Super Hero Salad that uses all the colors of the rainbow. Kids can tear leafy greens, whisk together Ranch Dressing, or use a butter knife to cut softer items like cherry tomatoes, apples, mushrooms or oranges. Helping with these tasks gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work — they will want to eat it and share it with the family!
Parents often get discouraged by the mess or time it takes to involve their child in the kitchen, but the benefits are well worth it, and you can teach your child how to sweep! It’s important to let go of expectations and focus more on the experience being positive and enhancing for your child. Think of cooking with your kids more like an art than a science, though it is both. Your child’s cookie may be a lump and hand shaped while your’s resembles the star shape you intended it to be. Make it a learning opportunity: “Do you notice how your cookie is more like a mountain, and it’s still not cooked inside? That’s because the heat needs to touch evenly over the cookie to make it cook all the way through.” How you direct these learning moments is up to you, but always remember that your children are being enriched with these experiences. It may even lead them down the path of lifelong healthy eating habits!
Some helpful tips:
1. Think safety — stove, knives and washing hands
2. Be age appropriate — set yourself and your child up for success
3. Have fun! — focus more on the bonding experience than perfection or cleanliness
Skills to practice:
For Kids 3-5:
Stirring, measuring, pouring
Cutting bananas, mushrooms or other soft foods with a butter knife
Flipping pancakes or scrambling eggs
For Kids 6-12:
Cooking rice and pasta
Beginner cutting skills (talk about knife safety)
Baking — work on measuring and following directions
Making breakfast such as oatmeal, pancakes or eggs
Help set the table, clean and sweep
About the Nutritionist
Leika received her undergraduate degree in nutrition at Bastyr University. She has dedicated her career to community nutrition with an emphasis on childhood nutrition and parent education as a way to support the livelihood of the next generation. Her approach focuses on bringing kids and parents into the kitchen so that learning nutrition is fun and delicious!