Making the Kitchen a Classroom

Illustration of a family cooking together.

Cooking involves a range of academic skills that include reading, math, science and even teamwork.

With many families hunkered down at home and children learning remotely, why not turn the kitchen into a classroom. Cooking involves a range of academic skills that include reading, math, science and even teamwork. Teaching kids to cook not only fosters confidence and independence; they’ll take pride in what they create.

And there are some added bonuses. Cooking from scratch is often healthier, typically using less processed and fresher ingredients. Have a picky eater? When a child is part of the input and effort in making a meal, the more likely they are to eat what they helped to make.

Here are some tips for cooking with your family:

Be prepared. Make sure you have the equipment you need and the ingredients on hand ahead of time. If you are working with young children, this could include pre-filling measuring cups. Read the recipe together ahead of time.

Think age appropriate. Choose age-appropriate tasks. You know your children best when it comes to maturity and skill level, so these tasks may vary. Remember, cooking together includes setting up and cleaning up, make sure to divide roles among the family. Here are some ideas for age appropriate tasks–with parental supervision of course

  • Toddler (2-3 years): provide a lot of counter space, use big bowls, and make sure you have lots of paper towels and sponges on hand for this age group! Toddler tasks might include rinsing produce in the sink, stirring, mashing, using a cookie cutter or rolling pin.
  • Preschooler (4-5 years): wipe down counters, setting and clearing tables, pouring in pre-measured ingredients, pulling apart lettuce for salad.
  • Six- to seven-years: cracking eggs; detailed measuring with spoons; measuring and pouring liquids, cutting soft fruit like a banana with a dull knife; greasing pans, grating, peeling or zesting with supervision.
  • Eight- to nine-years: some children may be mature enough at this age to use the stove, use can-openers, put food on skewers, scoop batter into muffin pans.
  • 10- to 12-years: At this age, most children are ready be independent cookers depending on experience, but it’s a good time to focus on safety like reviewing stove safety, using potholders and keeping pan handles turned away from the stove, using electric appliances and using a knife safely.

Involve children in food choices. Let your children choose between limited options, such as raisins or dried cranberries in a trail mix, blueberry or banana pancakes or what vegetables to put in a salad.

Talk about food and nutrition as you go. Talk about how food is grown or what nutrients different foods provide. It can be as simple as mentioning that carrots are good for eyesight or how calcium builds stronger bones.

And the most important part–sit down at your table together, turn electronics off and enjoy what you have made as a family.

Learn more about cooking with kids at the USDA website:
https://www.nutrition.gov/topics/audience/children/kids-kitchen

 

Heather Wolfe, MPH, RDN, LD, CHC, health and wellness coach, Employee Wellness Program.