Cooking with your child has a lot of benefits. It can help pre-school children learn and practice some basic math concepts and build language skills as well as help build their self-confidence by creating meals. One of the most important benefits in cooking with children is the laying of foundations for healthy eating habits in your child.
An important thing to remember when introducing your child to the kitchen is that it may require a little flexibility on your part and you will need to do some prep work, but with the right expectations, cooking with your child will be an adventure you will both enjoy.
Is my child ready to cook?
When you imagine your child in the kitchen, there are a host of dangerous items that come to mind that might persuade you to rather keep them out for safety’s sake. However, if your child is supervised and the activities kept simple, you can introduce your child at a young age to the concept of cooking. When you feel your child is able to listen and can handle a spoon, your child is ready to be introduced to the wonders of food. Even young children around the age of two are happy to pretend to be cutting food and stirring in the kitchen without having to handle sharp knives or dangerous items.
The biggest benefit of introducing your child to the kitchen at a young age is their eating habits. Younger children are inclined to put everything in their mouths as this is one of the best methods of discovery and learning for them. If you bring your child into preparing meals, they are most likely going to taste ingredients without any encouragement and begin to discover new flavours and textures which can go a long way to promoting good eating habits.
What your child is learning
Every day activities help your child to build basic skills, and no more so than working in a kitchen. Simple tasks like counting together as you place the cookies on the baking sheet or following a recipe will introduce your child to new words which can help your child’s vocabulary and teach good listening skills. Following a recipe teaches your child to listen and to follow the flow of the process which will help promote literacy and comprehension.
Working with food is a great way to encourage an adventurous palate in your child. Younger children can be picky eaters and bringing them into the kitchen to cook will open them up to new tastes. The temptation to taste what they are working with is natural and your child may be more open to sampling dishes not normally appealing if they are a part of the preparation process.
Encourage your little one to taste each of the new ingredients you’re working with and talk about the flavours and textures. Children learn by exploring with their senses and the kitchen is a great place to do that with sounds of mixing, the feel of kneading, rolling and grating, the smells as the dish cooks and finally the taste of their hard work.
What your child can do
Obviously there are certain tasks that are ideal for children and those that are not. A few tasks in the kitchen are particularly well-suited such as stirring batter, tearing lettuce or spinach, adding ingredients or assembling a pizza and keeping track of where you are in the recipe.
It’s important to keep the tasks simple to start with, to encourage their self-confidence and to make the experience as pleasant as possible. As they progress and become more comfortable you can introduce more complex tasks that they will be comfortable doing.
Consider looking for a few cooking-related activities that your child can successfully complete on their own or with a small amount of involvement from you. This will help to further develop their self-confidence and independence. Try simple tasks like pouring liquid into the bowl, sprinkling cheese on top of the casserole, or using cookie cutters.
Keeping it fun
Don’t plan an elaborate project or have expectations of hours in the kitchen with your child. In all likelihood, your child will be happy to spend 5 to 10 minutes on an activity only. Remember to start small and keep it fun. As your child’s attention develops they can join you in bigger cooking jobs.
Preplanning and realistic expectations on your part will help to make the experience a fun one, and will encourage your child to participate and enjoy the experience. Remember to always supervise your child in the kitchen at all times to make sure this is a safe environment for them. Do not hesitate to point out the dangers in a kitchen right from the start – to let them know what they can do and can’t do.
Spending time in the kitchen with your child can build an interest in food and cooking that will last a lifetime and will give you an opportunity to enjoy some fun time together.