Cooking with your child can provide some of the most poignant bonding experiences. How many sappy commercials have you seen that feature a glowing child, happy parent and an oddly clean kitchen as cookies rise in the oven. That scene can sell anything from sugary food to pots and pans. Attempting to re-create that scene isn’t just a misplaced desire for perfection. Cooking with kids can give them skills they will need later in life. It can teach them to be safe in the kitchen, and yes, it can even make your relationship closer. Here are a few of the most popular tips I have found to make that experience work.
10. Pick the Right Time
It’s not necessarily going to be the best experience for all involved if you choose to include kids in cooking the night you need
to whip up a boring dish quickly before soccer practice. Pick a time when you can follow your child’s pace. (1) Allowing them to experiment and play doesn’t happen quickly. Your child will learn the most when neither of you are in a hurry.
Young children will stay engaged better when they are not hungry or tired. (2) The best bet when pursuing that great cooking moment is to invest time in the experience. Who knows when a spontaneous flour fight will turn into a memory you all cherish.
9. Be Patient
Of course the children will not be as fast as you. Resist the urge to finish the job they have started. (3) The only way they will get faster is with practice. Kids must fail before they succeed. You will be glad you let them learn when they are able to take over some cooking duties for you when they are older. You may even earn the thanks of an appreciative mate one day. Hang in there and be patient.
8. Let Them Plan
Learning can happen even before the cooking starts. Children can feel more ownership of the process if you let them in on the planning process. You may need to make a salad for dinner, but they may be more motivated to make their favorite pancakes on a weekend morning. Once all of you have decided what to make, take the children shopping. (4) This is your chance to teach about where food comes from, the math behind what you pay, and grocery store etiquette. If the children are older you may even want to let them loose with a list of their own to foster independence.
7. Let Them Chop
Yes, let the children loose with knives. And no, they don’t have to be the sharpest, most intimidating knives you own. Children can experiment with plastic take-out knives or even a butter knife. (5) Starting children out with safe knives at a
young age lets them feel empowered. They can follow their curiosity safely, so that being safe around knives is second nature as they age. I have always been a fan of introducing potentially dangerous things in a measured way from a young age, from motorcycles to sharp objects. Early introduction tends to take away their mystique and de-escalate frantic and potentially harmful over-excitement into educated interest.
6. Make Sure You Have Sharp Knives
This won’t apply to your five year old whacking away with his plastic knife, but it is something to consider when children start to chop with actual metal cutlery. Dull knives tend to require more pressure to chop than sharp ones do. More pressure means it is more likely for fingers to get in the way or an item to slip. (6) Sharp knives actually make things more safe by allowing the blade to slide through food without all the effort. You will still want to make sure your child isn’t whisking any fingers across the blade in between chopping.
5. Engage the Senses
It has long been thought that learning happens more easily if as many senses as possible are involved. Thankfully, it is pretty easy to do that when you cook. How do herbs feel against your cheek? (7) How does bacon sound as it fries in the pan? Can
you close your eyes and guess what you are smelling? (8) Guessing games can be fun, and they are an awesome way to help children get to know things in the kitchen. Involving the senses can help children slow down and observe what is going on around them rather than take food for granted.
4. Taste Food
Understand I am not referring to tasting the final product. Of course children will be able to have some spaghetti, or that hard earned cookie. Tasting bits of ingredients along the way can help them appreciate the journey of food. You will want to keep food safety in mind and steer them clear of certain raw foods, and any they may be allergic to. (9) Many can be eye opening. The flour that makes cookies and cakes doesn’t actually taste sweet at all. This thing that looks like grass is actually an herb that tastes good. Tasting to determine if a recipe is done or if it needs a tweak here or there can make children feel accomplished and part of the process. (10) If they cook it they have earned the right to a taste.
3. Be Safe
This may have been the concern that kept you from letting your children in the kitchen in the first place. Don’t be discouraged. There are plenty of ways to allow your children into the kitchen and still keep all of their fingers firmly attached and vomiting to a minimum. Keep your child’s hands washed, especially when working with raw items like meat. If they are near a stove make sure they understand where their hands can go, and they are standing on a stable stool to keep them at the right height. (11) Also, don’t forget to keep your child’s allergies in mind. It is great to try new foods, just not if you already know they give you hives. (7)
2. Teach Food Hygiene
Cooking is a great opportunity to teach your children about food safety. Why do things need to be refrigerated? Why do we cook meat? (12) Keep the stool and soap handy so they can wash their hands easily. (13) Getting to know how to handle ingredients safely can encourage good habits that will last a lifetime.
1.Accept the Mess
Of all the things that were mentioned as important aspects of teaching kids cooking, this was far and away the most frequently mentioned. It’s no wonder kids often don’t make it into the kitchen with their grown-ups. Adults are terrified of
the mess. Over and over articles had to talk parents down from their fear of powdery explosions and oil sprays. How can a child learn if they aren’t given a bit of space to experiment. (14) If it helps any, children who are part of the mess can definitely be part of the cleaning up of said mess. (15) Now that my children are teens and cooking regularly for themselves we have a standing rule that what you use, you clean. While they do need to be reminded at times, they are not surprised and often jump right in to the cleaning they know they need to do.
Children can learn as much as we are willing to teach them when they cook. They can learn about our families’ culture. Do you make latkes for Hanukkah? Do you have fond memories of making lasagne with your grandmother? Math and economics can easily be brought into the picture at the grocery store when comparing prices. Fractions and measurements can be incorporated into your cookie bake. Don’t forget to encourage reading skills instead of letting children listen to you recite a recipe. Responsibility and independence are no less important to teach than regular school subjects. Finding their way through a recipe and ending with a product they are proud to share with the family is a wonderful way to encourage children to feel pride in their abilities. So take a deep breath and dive into cooking with kids. The squishy mess all over the table will be worth the lessons you are teaching and the memories you are making with your children.
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