Get Your Kids Involved: Cook Together!
March 16, 2022
Based on this recent study conducted by nutrition researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, it was found that children involved in gardening and cooking with family ate more servings of vegetables. This week Texas Mom Blog explores the benefits of cooking with children as a family.
If the pandemic had a silver lining, it had to be the cutting back of our hectic lifestyles. The running off to work, school drop-offs and pickups, grocery runs, and extra activities all came to a screeching halt as we tried to make sense of our new normal—the staying in, the working from home, and the home-cooked meals.
As a mom to three kids under five, this time was particularly challenging for me since keeping the kids occupied meant I had to take a break from what I was doing several times in any given hour. Till I realized that I could just include them with me on most tasks. Chores like doing and folding the laundry, cleaning up, gardening, grocery shopping, and the most fun– prepping meals.
The first change I made to my post-pandemic family routine was to skip grocery stores and replace them with trips to the farmers’ markets as often as we could. Here is a whole post I did on navigating farmers’ markets with children. The TexasRealFood listings were a valuable resource in finding a farmers market near me.
Children in the Kitchen
The kitchen is basically a wonderland for children. With the assortment of things that provide a learning station to kids of all ages, the kitchen is where tactile, experiential engagement meets with insight and visualization, and teamwork encounters independent decision making.
The hands-on processes that include handling food and equipment provide children with a complete learning experience. Children absorb information by touching, tasting, seeing, feeling, and listening. This multisensory engagement is also what makes human experiences memorable. It’s not by chance that the aroma of a favorite childhood dish can still stop you dead in your tracks.
By involving children in the kitchen, you’ll be setting them up for a lifetime of fond memories related to home, family and food. And an innate awareness of culinary know-how.
Read on to know how children of different ages can help out in the kitchen!
Toddlers in the Kitchen
A two-year-old toddler can contribute to several simple tasks in the kitchen. Sure, you don’t have to hand them a butcher knife, but many easy activities focus on developing a toddler’s gross motor skills. Adding ingredients into a blender or bowl, stirring, whisking, and sorting all require gross motions most toddlers are developing at that age. Set up a safe spot for your toddler, such as a stool or a high chair from which they can stand and operate
For kids this young, helping out in the kitchen is mostly play and staying busy than actually being productive. But it is also about introducing children as young as a year old to different types of foods and their textures.
Preschoolers in the Kitchen
Cooking with preschoolers is quite similar to cooking with toddlers, except preschoolers are so incredibly confident in their abilities; it’s hilarious and admirable at the same time. Preschoolers who indignantly assert, “I can do it myself!” as they try to scoop the pasta sauce into the pot are the best helpers. This stage is also the most beneficial when dealing with picky eating. Helping out in the kitchen introduces young kids to various kinds of foods, the processes and the smells, reassuring them to take that bite of the meal they helped cook. Fortunately, the more you let them participate in meal prep, the more you incentivize them to eat. Here is a detailed post you can read on dealing with picky eating.
You will find preschool kids are ready and willing to try advanced tools, like a melon scooper, a lemon squeezer, a veggie chopper, or a garlic press. Picking out produce from the fridge, washing it, and even chopping soft veggies like mushrooms and tomatoes with kid-friendly knives are jobs fit for kids this age.
Grade Schoolers in the Kitchen
By age six, most kids will be ready to contribute by setting or clearing the table, organizing groceries, or pouring drinks.
Responsibility builds confidence, and children learn from experience at this age, so try not to spring into action the instant they mess up.
Kids in early grade school can work with child-friendly kitchen tools. For example, they might now be able to mash, peel and grate independently as well as cut harder, thicker foods like vegetables or bread. Give them tasks where measurement and fractions are involved so children can hone their math skills too!
Tweens and Teens in the Kitchen
Spending time in the kitchen is a fantastic stress reliever for kids this age if the habit is inculcated early on. Cooking with older kids is often when you can kick back and relax for most of it. You begin to see that they can complete many cooking processes themselves with almost no help. They can fix their own snacks like a healthy Buddha Bowl and are most likely able to perform tasks like placing foods in the oven and safely taking them out, placing and removing dishes from the oven, and handling hot items with care. However, it is always best to have an adult supervising the task.
You can continue to nurture their independence and improve their culinary skills by giving them a simple cookbook aimed at children their age. The Super Easy Teen Cookbook by Chrsitina Hitchcock is a bestseller with simple instructions and attractive recipes.
If your tween (ages 9-12) carries lunch to school, you will find that they can fix a lunch box themselves. Here are some ideas for delicious healthy morning muffins.
Middle schoolers are a great help with all types of post-meal cleanup. On the other hand, high schoolers, with their higher-level thinking skills, can not only help you plan meals but can even figure out budgeting for produce and groceries each month. Seek their views on what they would like to help prepare for dinner, and invite them to structure a meal budget for the month.
With some practice, tweens and teens can go from nervous to confident young individuals who can find their way in a kitchen.
Make cooking part of the family culture. Building traditions around cooking together helps boost your family’s commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
Cooking together also reinforces family bonds, as you spend quality time together. In addition, it opens the doors for two way communication between you and your children and allows you to know what is going on in their lives.
Do you involve your children in cooking? What is their favorite part about being in the kitchen? We would love to hear, so drop a comment and let us know! Don’t forget to include the kids in shopping at your local Texas Farmers Market as well!