By Erika Krebs
Culinary education with our children is essential for numerous reasons. Learning to cook from scratch utilizes many skills they learn in school: baking is truly a science, measuring needs to be mathematically correct, understanding costs of food and budgeting is an education in finance, and making the food beautiful and tasty is truly an art.
Not only does your child get a well-rounded education, but, more importantly, you are bonding with your child and teaching them the importance of their health. Culinary education is one of the most effective strategies we can use to prevent childhood obesity. The more proficient our kids are in the kitchen, the less dependent they will be on fast food or packaged processed foods. Teaching children basic cooking skills such as knife skills, sautéing, baking, and how to transform individual ingredients into a balanced meal, means they can feed themselves healthy meals for the rest of their lives.
It’s simple—studies have proven that kids are more likely to eat what they make. What is more fun than eating your own art project? This sense of ownership given to kids is a powerful tool for lifelong healthy eating.
First and foremost, know that it will take twice as long, maybe even three times as long, to cook dinner. But, remember that it’s about the journey. They are learning. Also, your kitchen WILL be a disaster. Give a bowl of batter to a child to stir, and it’s nearly impossible to be surprised when half of it ends up on your table. Be patient. As anything does, practice makes perfect. Before you know it, you will be having your kids serving you waffles and orange juice every Saturday morning! That is the goal, right?
So, now the question is: how? How do you incorporate your kids into the kitchen? Here are a few simple steps to involve your children in the kitchen:
1. The Golden Rule
Wash your hands. Eww…you of all people know where those little hands have been. ALWAYS wash before touching anything in the kitchen.
2. Food Prep
Really young children have great fun opening the fridge and fetching foods. This is a great way for children to learn names of foods too. You can lift them up to the sink and let them wash the food too. Preschool kids are at a great age to start learning knife skills. Let them start with a butter knife and soft foods and teach safety along with sizes—big chunks, small pieces. This is great motor skill education! Once knife safety has truly been established, an older, school age child can be taught different culinary skills with a small paring knife—maybe a 4 inch—that fits their hand well? Start with simple chopping, and work your way to more advanced techniques, such as mincing, peeling, and julienning.
3. Measure and Pour
If you have really little ones, fill the measuring cup for them and let them pour into a bowl, remembering dry ingredients are easier. You also can let your small child practice “leveling” with a measuring cup by putting flour in an extra large bowl and let them use a spoon handle or spatula rather than a knife to do the leveling. They can count the number of cups poured into the bowl, too. If you have older children, you can explain the measuring system and ask them to double the recipe. Older children can also check liquid measurements at eye-level. You can show older kids how to pour a pitcher of water into cups at the table also.
4. Stir, Combine, Pour Ingredients
Very young children are good at stirring big bowls of wet or dry ingredients. But keep a close eye—it can get messy! You could even put a separate small bowl out of dry ingredients and let your child play stir while you do the actual baking/cooking. They can also learn how to scrape a bowl clean as you hold it. Around preschool age, children can learn different techniques. Teach them the difference between whipping and whisking, folding and stirring. Older, school age kids can be taught how to use appliances such as a stand or hand mixer. Older kids can also pour batter or other items into a hot pan, teaching them lessons about popping grease.
5. Set up and Serve
Young children can set part of a table – let them put the napkins, spoons, and forks on the table. Preschool age kids start learning imaginary play. Give them a notepad and a pencil and have them ask guests what they would like to drink with dinner. Older children are great at pouring the drinks and setting a full table. On special holidays, let kids of any age make table decorations, including special place cards. Let your kids know that food can be fun and decorative just as much as the table decor!
6. Clean Up
The most important, right? Small kids get a kick out of a hand-held broom and dustpan. This could entertain them for quite awhile! Another great job for a small one would be to dry and put away kitchen tools and gadgets, such as forks, spoons, spatulas, and tongs. Just make sure to keep the knives separate! Preschool and school age kids can be taught what is compost, recycle, and landfill, and to distribute the trash accordingly. Another would be to wipe down counters and to teach them why it’s important to clean and disinfect the kitchen. Older children can load and unload a dishwasher, including adding detergent. The key to clean up is to make it fun too. Why not put music on and do a clean up dance?
Cooking with your kids can be a really fun experience. Make sure you understand that it WILL be messy, and that it’s a learning process. Culinary skills teach your child independence, creativity, and appreciation of nutrition and what they put in their bodies. Most importantly, have fun—this is a great bonding experience between you and your kids. Bon Appetit!