If there is one thing children love more than spending time with their parents, it is doing activities that their parents also do. If you take your cooking seriously and have kids, you must have noticed how kids always follow you into the kitchen, ask you what you are doing, and if you need any help.
Some parents have the urge to make their children leave the kitchen immediately. They prefer having the kids busy with something fun elsewhere around the house so they can be alone in the kitchen. And it is understandable if you want to cook more quickly and efficiently. Kids make a lot of mess if you let them help, but if you want them to develop cooking as a life skill – it’s best to start them young.
Toddlers and preschoolers may follow you anywhere you go and observe you in whatever you do, and it’s best to maximize this clingy stage of life so you can teach them how to cook. School children who play independently are also easier to encourage to start cooking compared to when they are grown teenagers already.
Why Should We Teach Children Cooking?
Parents can and should use their children’s curiosity to help them learn about proper nutrition and spark their creativity. The kitchen can be an exciting place for children of all ages. Kids can watch their parents measure ingredients, do various meal prep tasks, and watch the ingredients transform into a full meal. It’s also an exciting place to learn new things.
Here are the reasons why you should allow kids to be busy in the kitchen with you:
It teaches them essential life skills
Every person on the planet needs to eat, and eventually, they will need to feed themselves too. The time will come when your children will move out of the home and live independently, so teaching them to cook early on will make them one step more readier than some of their peers. Once they move out, there will be lots of things they must learn to do on their own, so teaching them today will lessen the stress they will encounter in the future.
Also, your kids would become helpful in times you and your partner are sick and can’t prepare a healthy meal. This will help ensure that your household can still enjoy a nice home-cooked meal during those times.
It encourages creativity
Maybe cooking every day has taken all the novelty out of cooking for you. You might be making the same dishes over and over again because everyone in the home loves them and because, frankly, trying new recipes can be a bit of a hassle. However, for kids who are new to cooking, it is nothing short of an adventure. They learn new things about food and how it can combine in different ways to create various dishes. They learn to experiment in the kitchen, making them fond of trying new things and sparking their creativity.
Invite your children to make their own pizza toppings or add their fillings to their sandwiches. You can ask them to help you decorate the cookies or cupcakes when you bake. You can encourage older kids to design a unique table setting or invite them to serve a meal in their own way. This will spark joy in them as they are encouraged to get creative.
It teaches responsibility
Assisting in cooking teaches children that meals do not magically appear on the dinner table and that a lot of effort and love goes into preparing meals. Once they learn to cook, they also learn to be responsible for themselves and understand that they are supposed to do basic life chores. This responsibility will help them become better, self-sufficient adults as they grow up.
It teaches them language, reading, math, and science
Children learn best when they are active and able to connect. Cooking is a unique learning avenue that makes theoretical knowledge they learn at school to come alive. When kids help you cook, you can try to ask them to read the recipe to you, and as they do, teach them the meaning of the words they don’t know, like simmer, sauté, and whisk. The great thing about it is that it will most likely stick because as they learn the words, they also learn it in action! As they learn
Numerical stuff like measurements, weight, and fractions come alive when cooking. Not only will it be numbers in their heads, but it will help them understand math better. In the kitchen, they can learn more about how much one kilogram is, how much a ¾ cup of water is, and more. And when you need to tweak a recipe to double or cut the serving in half, it will help them learn their arithmetic better.
Also, concepts like heat, evaporation, boiling point, bicarb, and acid won’t stay as abstract science ideas to them anymore when they learn to cook. It will surely help them learn science at school better since they have a tangible example.
It can be fun
Though cooking teaches children essential life skills, it is nothing like a boring classroom lesson. Cooking can be a fun little activity where parents assign age-appropriate tasks to children and guide them with love. Kids are chatterboxes and have many questions; answering those questions while preparing meals and enjoying time together can make cooking an enjoyable activity.
It encourages healthy eating
If you don’t want your kids to be picky eaters, involve them in cooking and meal preparation. Kids will more likely eat what they had a hand in preparing. Let them explore the texture and feel of natural ingredients, and maybe let them taste some before adding it to the mix. Cooking introduces them to a variety of fresh foods and interesting ways to prepare and cook them. As you cut, slice, or process these foods, you may also tell them things like “these carrots are good for your eyesight,” so they can connect the food to its health benefits and encourage them to eat these things more.
It increases self-confidence
When children are taught with love and given age-appropriate tasks, it helps increase their confidence. Remember, as parents, your job is not to criticize your kids or point out their mistakes but to teach them that mistakes are a part of the learning process. So, if kids spill food or create a mess, they can later help clean it up. They will learn to own their mistakes, rectify them, and will start to love learning new things.
It brings the family together
Cooking and baking can be an amazing way for the family to bond. Choose a mealtime when everyone is at home and is free, and then cook together in the kitchen. You can also make it a ritual that your family regularly does. It doesn’t matter if breakfast works for you or dinner; the only thing is that the whole family should cook together and divide the cooking tasks. If your week is too busy, you can also do this over the weekend. Spending quality time together will be good for the family. It will bring them a happy memory of their childhood that they will cherish for the rest of their lives.
How to Encourage Children to Cook
As you consider inviting your children into the kitchen to help you cook, here are the ways to motivate them:
Pique their interest
If your kids are naturally interested and like to observe you while cooking, encouraging them is easier. But if you’re the one excited to get into the kitchen while they are less than enthusiastic, you can pique their interest by trying these things:
- Watch cooking shows together. There are countless cooking shows out there to choose from, and as you watch, you can give your children a visual idea of the cooking process and inspire them to start cooking their own meals. It’s better if you make them watch cooking shows involving children, like MasterChef Junior. You may also want to show them videos of other kids cooking on YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok.
- Record them making a cooking show of their own – you can set up your phone to record and let them go for it while pretending they are the star of their cooking show.
- Let them choose the recipe and be in charge. It will also allow them to learn how to make their favorite foods.
- Sometimes, let them create their own recipe, even if it sounds gross. Some kids need to ease into it and try doing things their own way before they become willing to follow instructions. If your kid insists on doing things a certain way, let them see the consequence, and they will learn from their mistakes and follow next time.
Give them age-appropriate tasks
Age-appropriate might mean different things to different kids. It depends on their interests, maturity, coordination, and strength. Your comfort zone will also play a role in what you will allow them to help with.
At around the age of 2-3, you can start by giving them easy tasks like washing vegetables, stirring ingredients, mashing with a fork, sprinkling, and spooning ingredients. Preschoolers will have an increased common sense, dexterity, and ability to follow instructions better, so you can get them to help in mixing, tearing herbs, squashing fruits, sieving, cutting soft ingredients using a butter knife, rolling and shaping dough, picking leaves, and spreading icing.
As they get older, you can teach them weighing and measuring, whisking, cutting harder foods, greasing a pan, breading, peeling, grating, beating, folding, setting the table, and doing simple cooking tasks like scrambling eggs and cooking toast.
Teach them hygiene and safety
Hygiene and safety are important to learn, along with more practical cooking skills. Show them how to wash their hands before handling ingredients and after touching raw meat. Make rules about no jumping, dancing, or skidding in the kitchen. Also, if you’re teaching them to use a real knife or work on the stove, tell them they have to focus on the task to avoid cuts and burns.
Use colorful and fun cooking utensils
Kids love colors and novelty. You can motivate your children to cook by incorporating fun, unique, and colorful cooking utensils. While it’s not necessary to buy all-new kitchen tools and equipment to encourage your kids to cook, it can be fun! For example, when shopping for measuring spoons and cups, go for those with bright colors. They will be more attracted to these tools, unlike metal measuring cups or plain measuring tools. Also, plastic is your safest material since glass will always pose some danger to children.
Accept the mess
The biggest reason why many parents don’t teach their kids to cook is because of the mess they are going to make, and they don’t want to deal with cleaning up. But it’s part of the process – accept that it has a 100% likelihood of happening. Don’t let the fear of mess, mistakes, or wasted ingredients cause missed opportunities.
However, there are things you can do to minimize the mess:
- Set up a spoon rest and a trash bowl. This will give them somewhere to put their stirring utensils to prevent adding more mess to the counter and a place to throw veggie scraps, peels, and egg shells without running back and forth to the trash can.
- Give them an apron. Let them wear an apron to avoid getting tough stains on their clothes.
- Limit the area they can work in. Set up a space in the kitchen where they can be free to work on tasks and remind them to stay put until you’re done. Place a high chair mat or a piece of plastic under their chair or counter to catch the mess.
- Include them in cleaning up. Don’t let them stay only for the fun stuff – make sure that they learn right away that cleaning up is a part of cooking. You might be surprised how much they actually enjoy cleaning up.