Is your kitchen the heart of your home? From grating cheese to prepping salads, we break down the benefits of letting your kids help you prepare meals, and offer age-appropriate cooking and cleaning tasks you can assign to your littles.
Benefits Of Cooking With Your Kids
1. It’s a valuable life skill.
As they say, you gotta eat! As your kids grow into adulthood, they’ll have to fend for themselves in the kitchen. The earlier they start to build their cooking skills, the smoother that transition will be.
2. It helps kids develop fine motor skills.
Cooking is a physical science as well as an art. From measuring and mixing the ingredients to rolling out dough or shaping perfect meatballs, the hands-on nature of cooking develops their hand-eye coordination, and its benefits can spill over into other areas of their development.
3. You can turn it into a math lesson. Hello, fractions!
Have a recipe that serves two but trying to feed a family of four? Double it! This is a great opportunity for your littles to practice their math skills, particularly with adding and multiplying fractions to determine the proper number of ingredients for the size of the crowd they’re hosting.
4. It requires learning to follow directions to the letter.
Following a written recipe helps kids develop their reading comprehension. Understanding step-by-step directions and adding ingredients in the proper sequence are important for producing a palate-pleasing meal.
5. It could expand their palate and promote healthier eating habits.
Home-cooked meals with fresh, wholesome ingredients are generally healthier than take-out. Are your kids picky eaters who frequently request something other than what you’ve made for dinner? Involving them in the process of preparing the meal can help them feel empowered and get them excited about trying their new kitchen creations. Exploring dishes from around the world can even be an opportunity for cultural enrichment and an impromptu geography lesson.
6. It transforms a daily chore into an opportunity for family quality-time.
Many working parents struggle to carve out one-on-one time with their kids in the evening, with all the other things that need to get done to keep the household running smoothly. Why not combine your efforts and involve your kids in the process? Make the kitchen a place where kids feel safe to communicate about their day while they practice cooperation and teamwork alongside you and their siblings. And of course, be sure to pass down Grandma’s Secret Recipe while you have the chance.
7. It inspires creativity and self-confidence.
When you turn cooking into a game, your kids can pretend to be chefs of their own restaurant, hosts of their own make-believe cooking show, or contestants in a cooking competition. Have the rest of the family be the judges, and praise their efforts (even if the meal doesn’t turn out exactly right). As your kids’ cooking skills continue to grow, so will their self-confidence and self-esteem.
Age-Appropriate Cooking Tasks For Children
Cooking with toddlers is messy work, but remember: every spill contributes to a lifelong skill. Kids this age are pros at washing fruits and veggies. Fill the sink and put their splashing talents to good use. Younger toddlers can tear lettuce for salads and help with greasing baking pans. With adult assistance, toddlers can also count and pour pre-measured ingredients into bowls and stir them together.
Super kid-tastic tip:
Keep your kids away from the cutting board while you chop with a distractingly fun task: emulsifying salad dressing. Pour ingredients into an unbreakable container, seal it tightly, then put on their favorite sing-along tune and tell them to get shaking!
With careful instruction and supervision, chopping, grating cheese and vegetables, and cutting herbs with scissors are all on the menu. Older toddlers can cut soft ingredients like strawberries with a strong, plastic knife. Measuring, stirring, and setting the table are other age-appropriate tasks.
Super kid-tastic tip:
Let your kids in on the big decisions by allowing them to choose one fruit and one veggie whenever you go grocery shopping.
Kids in this age range can read, plan and execute a recipe—or even an entire meal. Working with them side-by-side, you’ll be able to play sous chef and still supervise as they peel, chop and operate kitchen machinery like the blender, food processor, stove, oven, microwave and toaster. This is a great opportunity to share practical cooking and safety tips, like how to protect their fingers while chopping or use the oven without getting burned.
Super kid-tastic tip:
Let your kid plan the menu. Writing grocery lists, budgeting and shopping for ingredients are so empowering your kids won’t even notice all the math skills they’re using.
Tweens and teens can still benefit from your wisdom; be available for consultation, but try to allow them as much independence as possible. Read up together on safe food-handling techniques, proper cooking temperatures and other higher-level kitchen skills. Budding chefs may want the challenge of trickier dishes like making risotto or fresh bread.
Super teen-tastic tip:
Enroll in a cooking class together and you and your teen can sharpen your knife skills, learn new presentation techniques and expand your creative boundaries.
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By K. Bothwell