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From getting messy with Mom’s flour to sneaking licks of frosting off the spoon, being a kid in the kitchen is a lot of fun. And although your little one’s first attempts at cooking dinner may not win them a place on Top Chef, encouraging their culinary curiosity now can reap delicious rewards later.
There are as many reasons to get your kids cooking as there varieties of potatoes (over 500, to be exact!). Reading a recipe strengthens their vocabulary and comprehension skills, while prepping food and cleaning up afterward reinforces cleanliness. Math plays a huge role too, from measuring ingredients to calculating substitutions and cooking times. And cooking with a partner encourages organization, teamwork, and sharing. From gathering ingredients to knowing if Dad already added the eggs to the flour, it takes concentration and effort to see a recipe through from the stovetop to the dinner table, and the rewards to this process are better than tangible: they’re edible!
If your little one has already discovered the joys of banging on pots and pans, it’s easy to get them involved in a more meaningful (and less noisy) way. For younger kids, start off with a simple recipe, such as fruit salad or cupcakes, then take a trip to the grocery store and have them pick out the ingredients. Back in the kitchen, clear off a space for them to help out with kid-friendly tasks like washing fruit or measuring flour. Establishing clear rules about what’s safe (the sink) and not safe (the stove) to touch is also extremely important, and make sure that whatever utensils you give your little one to work with are safe for their age and experience. Lastly, patience is key when cooking with kids, so don’t expect 30-minute meals to actually take 30 minutes.
Once your child has experienced the basics, move on to other kid-friendly dishes like soups and stews, and easy baked goods such as cookies and cakes. Take the time to explain each ingredient, noting its color, smell, and texture; it’ll take the mystery out of new foods and dishes, engage kids’ curiosity, and make them feel more connected to the act, and art, of cooking.
As kids get older, you can delegate more tasks and responsibilities in the kitchen. Try assigning older kids one night a week to plan and cook a meal for the whole family. Not only will this boost their confidence, it’ll also serve as an outlet of creative expression.
Getting your children involved in the cooking process can be a source of fun and inspiration for the whole family. Learning essential kitchen skills, and understanding the connection between food and the world around them, will help kids make smart food choices later on in life. And who knows – maybe they’ll pass Grandma’s super secret apple pie recipe on to their own children someday!