Kids of all ages love to help in the kitchen. It’s a great family activity and it fosters confidence and a sense of purpose as each child contributes to family life. Plus, your kids will be learning skills that they will draw upon throughout their lives.
Here are six important guidelines to follow as you help your children learn to cook.
1. It’s important to emphasize safety first for all kids in the kitchen. Determine beforehand what kinds of jobs will be appropriate for your children’s ages. If your child has to stand on a stool or a chair to reach the stove, he or she is too young to cook. Start young children with jobs that are far away from dangerous kitchen items. Young kids can set and clear the table, hunt down ingredients, add ingredients, and stir and mix to their heart’s content.
Children should also know your rules about handling knives and other sharp kitchen instruments before you begin to cook. Let your kids know what kinds of tools are off limits to them. If your children are old enough to be handling hot pans, make sure to talk to them about which parts of the pans get hot. Talk with them about properly handling baking pans using oven mitts as well as which kinds of surfaces in your kitchen are safe to lay hot pans on.
If your kids are too young to handle knives or hot pans, there are still lots of ways for them to be involved with pre-meal preparation. Ask young children to slice bananas with a plastic knife, for example, or ask them to put ice and water and sliced lemons in the glasses. They can put the chopped ingredients in a salad and toss, as well.
There are lots of ways for kids to participate in the kitchen, but they should know to always ask an adult before they use a tool or an appliance.
2. Talk about the importance of washing hands thoroughly before you start cooking. You’ll also want to talk about the importance of washing hands after touching certain food items, such as raw meat.
3. Start with a recipe you know by heart, or ask your child to choose a simple recipe from a cookbook that you can work on together. Start by taking out all the ingredients to make sure you have everything on hand.
4. Make cooking a whole-brain learning experience. When kids are in the kitchen, they are also getting a chance to use what they know about fractions as well as to experiment with chemistry. Ask them questions to draw on what they have learned in school. Encourage them to experiment with different ingredients and to go beyond the recipe if they think they can improve upon it.
5. Prepare for a mess. Every kid has broken a few dishes in the kitchen, so assume that it’s going to happen and don’t stress about it when it does. Also assume that you are going to have a rather large mess on your hands before it’s all over. This is prime time to teach your kids the important skill of cleaning as they go. Fill the sink with hot, soapy water and place the dishes in the water as you finish with them. Your kids will see how this makes it much easier to do the dishes when the cooking is done. Throughout the process, try not to get stressed. The more laid back you can be as the kids are learning to cook, the more fun it will be for everyone.
6. As your kids get older, allow them to plan and prepare a meal for the family all by themselves.
When you first teach your kids to cook, their “help” in the kitchen will lead to a bit more work on your part, but the confidence and knowledge they gain will be well worth it as they grow.