Bringing children into the kitchen to help prepare a meal or bake may make the process more time consuming, messy, and complicated. However, the adult’s extra work results in long-lasting benefits for the kids allowed in the kitchen. Of course, the ages and skill levels of children will vary, but regardless, there are many different ways they can be engaged in the kitchen. All ages of children are able to help with planning menus, making lists, and shopping for groceries. Ask your younger children to assist with simple tasks, such as setting the table or stirring in ingredients from a recipe. Encourage older children to prepare simple snacks and even wash dishes themselves. No matter what age your children are, working with them in the kitchen can motivate them to try new and healthier foods.
Encouraging children to take an interest in food preparation can start at the grocery store. Allow your child to pick out a new fruit or vegetable they would like to try and incorporate it into a meal. This is also an excellent time to teach older children how to read labels and identify artificial sweeteners and other additives in foods. Teach the difference between highly processed and whole or real foods.
When in the kitchen, even young children can participate. Be sure to start by encouraging simple tasks, such as washing produce, tearing lettuce, rinsing beans, counting items, handing items to the adult, measuring ingredients, cracking eggs, stirring ingredients, or even cut soft foods.
Older children can be asked to peel and slice vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, and potatoes. Teach them to crack and separate eggs. They can also safely form meatballs, bread chicken for chicken strips, and put meat and vegetables on skewers for kebabs.
Be sure to provide instruction on hand-washing and food safety for children to start safe, healthy habits early. Children can also learn how to clean countertops and wash utensils. Show how to use a food thermometer.
Bringing kids into the kitchen to learn cooking skills also fosters independence and self-esteem. Children feel proud about their new abilities and may even be able to prepare simple foods on their own. This time together in the kitchen also promotes healthy communication and time together, with a break from screen-time and technology.
When children work side-by-side with an adult, preparing recipes, there are many skills to be gained. Learning how to measure and read and understand fractions makes a vital math skill have a real-life application, promoted by hands-on learning. Following step-by-step directions to create a product they can enjoy and take pride in is also an important life lesson. Picky eaters are also more likely to try foods that they helped prepare.
When preparing foods together, it is a good time to discuss and compare nutritional values of foods and help kids understand from a young age that homemade foods are often healthier than processed, store-bought foods because they do not contain ingredients with names that can sometimes not even be pronounced! Learning to enjoy cooking and choosing healthier food options is a great gift to give the youth in your life.
Written by Vicki Hayman, MS, University of Wyoming Extension Nutrition and Food Safety Educator
- choosemyplate.gov; www.eatright.org; healthyeating.nhlbi.nih.gov; nutrition.gov