Kids love to cook, and cooking with them can be a lot of fun, albeit sometimes a bit messy. In addition to having fun, there are some really good reasons to teach your children how to cook, such as:
• You’re spending time doing something with them, bonding and giving them the parental attention they need.
• You’re making memories—and memories that involve food are nurturing memories. What kinds of food memories do you have? Decorating holiday cookies with your Mom? Helping Dad make his special barbeque sauce? You can be intentional about creating food memories with your children.
• You’re teaching and reinforcing learning, and they don’t even know it. They are reading, doing chemistry and physics and practicing math.
• You can pass along your family heritage to your children—and cooking with them gives you another opportunity to be intentional about it.
• You are teaching them the skills they need to be successful adults. You have about 18 years to teach your children the life skills they need—and cooking is one of those skills.
Over the course of those 18 years, your children need to learn:
Kitchen and food safety
How to choose ingredients
How to use utensils, knives and equipment
How to measure liquid and dry ingredients accurately
How to shop for food
How to budget for food and stay within the budget
Proper table setting and serving
Good table manners
It’s really easy and fun to teach your kids to cook if you remember a few simple rules:
1. Safety first.
2. Adult supervision as needed.
3. Make it fun for everybody.
4. Give lots of positive reinforcement.
5. Keep it age-appropriate.
When you’re teaching young children how to cook, it’s important to establish firm safety rules and to enforce them. Children shouldn’t use the stove or electric appliances until they are tall enough to reach them safely without standing on anything. They shouldn’t use kitchen knives until they have sufficient fine motor coordination to use them safely—usually somewhere around age 10. Make sure your children understand the safety rules and why they are important.
Adult supervision is necessary whenever your child is learning a new kitchen skill. As the child becomes proficient in the skill, you can back off a bit and just check in periodically to see how he or she is doing. Later, you can be available if they need help. Eventually, the child will be able to perform the skill independently.
Children can begin to help in the kitchen at a very young age. Infants want to be wherever you are, but they can get underfoot and the kitchen can be a dangerous place. You can sit the baby out of the way and give him or her some plastic bowls and wooden spoons and he will usually play happily pretending to cook with Daddy or Mommy.
At two or three, the child can stand on a chair and pour ingredients that you’ve measured into a bowl. He or she can also help clear the table by removing placemats and napkins.
Preschoolers can spread peanut butter on bread with a dull knife, tear up lettuce for a salad, mash soft fruit, wash fruits and vegetables and stir things together (unless they are hot). Your preschooler can learn to set the table and can begin to learn basic table manners.
School age children can use the whisk, can opener and hand egg beater. They can measure ingredients and mix them in the right order. This is a good time to invest in a child-friendly cook book with recipes the child can make with minimal supervision. School age children are usually ready for restaurant manners.
By age 10 or so, your child can begin to use the stove, knives and mixer with supervision. He or she can prepare simple recipes and will take a lot of pride in making a dish for dinner. This is a wonderful age to start baking—they will enjoy making cakes and cookies. Preteens can set the table, including crystal and extra forks, and can learn how to serve meals. They are usually ready to participate in formal dinner parties, using correct manners.
Young teens can usually plan and prepare a meal with minimal supervision. They will enjoy planning the menu for a party, shopping for it and helping with the preparation. They can understand about nutrition and food safety and are able to make sure the kitchen is cleaned up when they are done cooking.
Older teens are on the cusp of adulthood, and are ready to learn about budgeting, menu planning and shopping. They will soon be on their own, using the cooking skills you’ve been teaching them for the past 18 years.
Teaching your kids how to cook is fun and rewarding. Watching your child acquire essential life skills and feel good about himself or herself is your first reward. Later, you’ll enjoy the rewards of having your teenager surprise you with a birthday cake she made by herself, having your married daughter show up for Thanksgiving dinner with Dad’s favorite casserole, or having your son call and ask for Grandma’s chocolate chip cookie recipe—because he wants to make them with his kids.