When is the right time to get your children to help in the kitchen? Whether you bring them in to help as a toddler, a kindergartener, or as a school-aged child, it’s never too late to get them into the kitchen. Although a little extra patience and cleanup time are necessary when they are younger, the benefits of cooking with children are worth it in the end.
Language, math, and science
Cooking with children provides the perfect environment for learning. Children learn best by touching, tasting, feeling, observing, reading, and listening. This wide range of learning styles gives many opportunities for education in the kitchen. Working with recipes provides an opportunity for language development. Talking and describing what is happening while cooking leads to exposure of new words and terms they may not have heard before. If your child is of reading age, they can practice reading the recipes to develop their language skills further.
Cooking in the kitchen provides an opportunity to develop mathematical skills, such as counting eggs, number recognition in reading scales, recipe multiplication, and weighing and measuring ingredients. Parents can introduce these valuable skills during the cooking process.
Making a new recipe in your child’s eyes may look a little like an experiment to them. Watching materials change color, texture, and form can turn a kitchen into their own science lab. Encourage your children to make predictions and observations as to how mixing two ingredients together will look or how freezing a liquid turns it into a solid.
Cooking allows children to express their creativity in various ways. It enables them to add their style to recipes by adding personal touches to food presentation and make decisions in the cooking process that make the dish unique. This creative expression can allow them to choose what ingredients to put into a salad, what foods will go together for dinner, what recipes to choose, and how they would like the food served.
Many of the skills used in cooking aid in your child’s physical development. Their fine motor and hand-eye coordination skills are developing through chopping, mixing, pouring, pounding, squeezing, and spreading ingredients. For younger children, this task can be as simple as mixing pancake batter or pounding down dough. Older children may handle more difficult jobs such as chopping veggies and portioning out muffin batter. Using a hand-turned egg beater can also improve coordination and offer benefits of midline crossing (the ability to reach across the middle of the body with the arms and legs). Watching egg whites turn into peaks of meringue seems like magic that can provide the incentive to keep working.
One of the most beneficial things you can do for your family’s health is to cook at home. Incorporating fresh, healthy produce into your dishes provides the perfect opportunity to talk about the benefits of fruits and veggies for our health. Including whole grains on your plate leads to conversations about fiber’s importance and its role in the body. Cooking at home is also generally more healthy due to using minimally processed ingredients, and the meals’ reduced fat and sugar content. Apples, for instance, can be cooked with a small amount of water to make delicious applesauce with no sweetener needed. Cooking at home with your children cultivates habits and tastes that may last a lifetime.
Making meals together is a great way to spend quality time as a family. This time together provides an opportunity to talk in a relaxed environment. It is also a time to share family traditions and recipes that have been handed down through generations. Cooking with siblings provides an opportunity to work together and communicate in a shared space. These family routines established early in a child’s life will carry through into their adult years.
Young children love to show off what they can do. Cooking in the kitchen with them provides many opportunities to foster this sense of accomplishment. Completing a recipe or combining ingredients in a dish is the perfect way to build their confidence. Whether they help combine ingredients for muffins or pick out the toppings for a salad, do not hesitate to let them know their help is valued and appreciated.
Introduces and improves acceptance of new food
A kitchen is an ideal place for children to explore with their senses. Bringing them into the kitchen to cook may help them open up to new tastes and smells. When your child helps make a dish, they are generally more willing to try it instead of just serving it to them (1). Talk about new ingredients you’re using in a recipe, what they look, taste, and smell like, what kind of nutrition they provide for your body; this can help familiarize them with what they are trying.
With all of the benefits of cooking with children, why wait to get started? Whether it’s cooking breakfast on the weekends or dinner on the weeknights, the time invested is well worth the effort. When starting, look for a few cooking activities, your child can successfully do independently or with not much involvement from you. Start small and simple, and keep it fun. As your child gets older, they will develop the skills, attention span, and interest to complete more elaborate cooking tasks. Time to get your children cooking in the kitchen!
- Horst, K., Ferrage, A., & Rytz, A. (2014, April 04). Involving children in meal preparation. Effects on food intake. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666314001573?via=ihub