Involving Children in the Cooking Process
The kitchen can be a fascinating place for young kids. They see grown-ups working briskly in there, watch the steam rise from pots on the stove, and smell what’s on the menu that night. Even older kids might be intrigued by how baked goods and meals come together. It isn’t always convenient to invite them into the kitchen to help, but consider doing so when time allows.
Younger kids can watch what you’re doing and help out with small tasks, like stirring something or setting the table. Older kids can be taught how to crack eggs or measure ingredients. Even teens might be lured into the kitchen if you tell them they can choose the dish and you’ll help prepare it with them.
To the kids, it will seem like fun, but there are other benefits to this time together:
•Preschoolers see how the dishes they eat are put together — and they get hands-on experience, which is a great way to learn and feel like they are helping out.
•School-age kids can learn some cooking basics and use their math skills as they help combine ingredients for recipes. You also can use the time to talk about good nutrition and why you chose the ingredients you’re using. It can lay the groundwork for healthy eating later on.
•Teens might appreciate the chance to improve their cooking skills — good preparation for when they’ll need to cook for themselves. Teens also might be interested in trying different cuisines. Do they love Asian food? Visit an Asian market and put together something authentic.
Parents get something out of this kitchen togetherness, too. First, there’s the quality time you’ll share. Then there’s the pleasure of sitting down at the table together to enjoy what you’ve whipped up.
Here are some tips for having fun and staying safe while you’re cooking with kids.
Choose the Right Time
If you’re going to have kids helping you in the kitchen, you don’t want to be on a tight time schedule. Instead of involving them in a dinner you have to cook lightning-fast, enlist their help on a weekend afternoon when you don’t feel crunched.
With younger kids, choose a time when they’re well-rested and not easily frustrated. It’s also a smart idea to have another adult in the kitchen to help you keep an eye on your junior chef.
Kids cannot be counted on to be neat in the kitchen. Even adults have trouble with that. To make your experience together more enjoyable, allow for some extra mess and try to be patient. To prevent cooking disasters, be sure your child isn’t measuring ingredients over the bowl — risking a big oops. Instead, you might measure them separately and put them in small bowls, like they do on TV cooking shows.
Even if everything doesn’t go perfectly, try to keep the mood light. If the egg gets more smashed than cracked, offer some guidance and let your child try again. Little by little, kids will gain these skills — and feel great once they’re mastered.
Last, but not least, be sure to compliment your assistant chefs on a job well done. Offer them first taste of whatever you cooked together — and ask what you should make together next time. Bon Appetit!