There really is nothing better after a long, hard day at work than coming home, carefully preparing a meal for your family and then having your children throw a tantrum about what is being served! Not my idea of fun! Trust me, there are MANY evenings that end this way at my home. While I cannot make promises, I can assure you that engaging your children in cooking tasks is a hands-on way to spark their interest in new and different foods while eventually giving you an extra hand in the kitchen. Involving your children in the kitchen also provides an excellent opportunity to address many academic and social skills, as well as, promote independence; all while getting your little ones out from under your feet while you are busy attempting to get dinner on the table.
As fun as cooking with your little ones can be, I do not recommend doing it on a busy weeknight. It really is a “recipe” for disaster. I suggest choosing a day when you have enough time to allow your children to assist you and learn, as opposed to a day when you are just lucky to get edible food on the table. I also find it beneficial to select a recipe that will allow your children to prepare a main dish they already like while adding in some new ingredients. I typically provide two options of recipes and let my daughter decide which she would like to try (example: blueberry vs. banana-nut muffins). Remember to have fun, be patient, and expect a few messes along the way.
Here are some tips to guide you when first embarking on this culinary adventure:
- Find a spot that is safe for your child to join you; one where the child can help, but one that is also away from hot or sharp items.
- Allow your children to see the main ingredients of the recipe and even taste them (if possible and/or safe) before they are chopped and/or cooked.
- For baked goods, I make sure to measure out all dry ingredients into small bowls before beginning and have plenty of spoons and spatulas within reach so I can keep a constant eye on my ever-active toddler. Older children can assist with the measuring.
- If baking, I also highly recommend using or borrowing a stand mixer if possible. Life is so much easier when you have free hands!
- Children can help prepare ingredients that can be torn or cutting soft foods with a dull plastic knife.
- After every thing is measured and chopped, I then let my little one help me do the pouring and some of the mixing of ingredients.
As your children gain confidence in the kitchen, they will become more independent and proficient in cooking tasks, and able to take on more responsibility. This is a win- win for everyone! What mom wouldn’t want to teach her children to cook for her? I know I’d eventually enjoy a break from the kitchen.
Cooking is not only as an awesome bonding opportunity, but also a chance to sneak in a little learning too. Here’s why:
- Following and reading a recipe from start to finish aids in development of reading comprehension and sequencing.
- In younger age groups, cooking is an excellent opportunity to educate them on cleanliness while washing hands and dishes.
- Preparing dishes with other siblings or friends can also incorporate turn taking and requesting.
- Cooking also helps in the development of basic math skills through counting ingredients and quantity and measurement.
- Vocabulary development is also occurring as you introduce new terms of cooking equipment and various food items.
- Children will also learn the important lesson of patience and adopt a sense of accomplishment when the dish is complete!
Best of all, I have often noticed my daughter sneaking bites of ingredients that she typically would not eat if they were presented on her dinner plate.
In our society, domestic fundamentals, such as basic meal preparation skills, are often overlooked but these skills are essential in raising our children to be independent adults who will eventually be able and willing to care for and feed their own families. Next time you are searching for an inexpensive and educational activity to end a streak of boredom in your house, look no further than your own kitchen. Cooking with your kids can be very rewarding for both parents and children while yielding some pretty yummy results and great quality time and hopefully opening the minds of even the pickiest little eaters to try new foods. I promise, the effort is worth the reward!
Jennifer is a native of Houma, LA, but moved to Baton Rouge nearly 10 years ago to be with the love of her life. She has been happily married for five years and is a proud mom to her nearly three-year-old daughter, Kendall. Jennifer and her husband eagerly anticipate the arrival of their second child, a baby boy, in February. Jennifer works part-time as Speech Therapist treating the adult and geriatric population. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking food from scratch for friends and family, shopping, playing with her daughter, volunteering in the community and exploring the wonderful world of wine! Jennifer believes that love is shown through food (as most Louisiana natives do) and loves to fill the tummies of those she cares for.