Keep kids’ brains, minds and mouths busy with a trip to the kitchen! Give them a head start in good food, give their learning skills a workout, and have some productive fun.
Getting our eating in order is tricky for a range of reasons. It spans an important group of daily challenges: health and nutrition,a household budgets/spending, time and spatial coordination, and that grey area where “hobbies” and “habits” overlap. That’s why it’s a great opportunity, and a big priority, for kids’ growth and learning.
The benefits of getting involved in the kitchen are many. Whether it’s knowledge that is useful across many areas of life, or more specific skills like those helpful in a game of chess, kids learn best through situations and active involvement.
Cooking is an intense hands-on learning experience which directly introduces young minds to a range of things, encouraging analysis and problem solving, providing entertainment, building family relationships, nourishing bodies, and introducing matters of budgeting and planning.
- Vocabulary and comprehension. Reading out, listening to and following a list of instructions gives kid’s language skills a workout, associating new foods and utensils with an overall purpose.
- Maths and science. Cooking is certainly a scientific experiment, and kids might not even notice they are building skills with adding, dividing and fractions all the way through. Timing is also a big factor – not only with making sure the rice finishes at the same time as the vegetables, but also with getting it done in time!
- Sensory learning. As we discussed in another post, healthy eating is a matter of time and familiarity. Being involved in making healthy food goes a long way towards preferring it, and the earlier fresh vegetables are explored, the earlier they can become the norm.
- Keeping entertained. Cooking can be a great time for everyone. Its up to parents to provide the sense of adventure, experimentation and anticipation early on, but given some encouragement, you can have all the kitchen help you need and get them away from the screen!
- Relationships and communication. While hands are busy, it’s a great time to chat about each other’s day, both building relationships and approaching any important matters in a non-confrontational manner.
Take a moment to consider where safety comes into the equation – and it comes in much earlier than the kitchen. Teach and practice at every stage, including:
- At the shops: caution before cheapness. Always check that skins/packing is not broken. If you can’t get it into the fridge in under an hour, use a cooler bag, especially in summer!
- In the fridge: Either freeze or cook most meat within a day or two. While Australian habits might vary, the fact is that refrigerating eggs reduces the incidence of nasty Salmonella.
- While cooking: the dangers of anything sharp, or hot or bacterial are not instinctively known. Wash hands before and after cooking, and every time meat is handled. Firmly walk kids through the steps which using knives or heat, and supervise well after the first few times doing the task.
While toddlers are best suited to tasks like rinsing fresh greens, grabbing (safe) utensils and basic actions like mixing and tidying, pre-schoolers will usually be capable to do things like measuring ingredients and cracking eggs (accepting a few spills here and there!). At school age, kids are fully able to get involved in choosing types and quantities in the shop, selecting the ones needed for a particular meal, measuring and preparing, and either serving up or packing a lunch box.
While we’d all like to think we can out-cook our mums, Chess Mates is happy to get some help too. Here are some cooking-with-kids recipes we’ve spied around the web.
Asian Fish Cakes – Recipe here
Mexican Chicken Fajitas – recipe here
Honey-Nut Cheerio Snack Bars – recipe here