Cooking With Children: Helpful Tips for Success!
As a child I loved to help my parents when they were preparing a meal or baking. There’s something so tactile and exciting about getting the ingredients ready and knowing that something tasty would reward us at the end of our labors. While we were having fun cooking we were also learning math, science, nutrition and more importantly building memories. So it was natural that as soon as I began working with children I also included at least one cooking project on a weekly basis. Here are some things to consider when cooking with children.
· Tools – Child-sized tools are readily available and allow children to work more comfortably. For example, using a large adult-sized spoon for mixing dough is challenging for child-sized hands. Consider a smaller spoon and even dividing the mixture into smaller bowls for easy handling.
· Recipes – There are a wide variety of children’s cookbooks and recipes available. Appropriate recipes for children have simple ingredients and clear step-by-step directions. Also, look at those family favorites that have been handed down as a chance to share family history along with great food. What an opportunity to talk about your memories of great-grandma while making her special banana bread. Choosing the recipe is a great pre-cooking activity and can include an introduction on how to read the recipe. Also, consider tying a recipe in with a favorite book or song – it just adds to the learning experience.
· Getting Started – As with any food related project, start with a thorough hand-washing. Use a cover up or apron over clothes (an additional help during the clean-up process). Introduce the tools and safety rules in the kitchen. Review the recipe again and start assembling your ingredients. Then go to it! Even if the recipe doesn’t turn out the best, it is the experience that counts. Learning to evaluate outcomes is also part of the process.
· Little Hands Can – When the children were young we tried to do all our mixing, pouring and stirring at their child-sized table. As they got older, we then had safety stools to use for work at the counter or at the kitchen island. If cutting of items needed a sharp knife it was an adult job, but if they could be cut with child-sized knives or plastic utensils, then the children would do it with supervision. Children are great at dumping ingredients into bowls, mixing, stirring and wonderful at kneading dough. Eventually they move onto measuring out ingredients, chopping and cracking eggs. Our rule about starting to use the stove had to do with height and ability. They needed to comfortably see over the top of the pan without a boost from a step stool or chair before they could use the stovetop with an adult. Using the oven to place items in was at about the same time, but getting something hot out of the oven was based on each child’s skills and readiness. I feel that teaching children to handle the stove and oven is like teaching them to drive – good preparation, constant encouragement, ready to take over if needed and an occasional warning if warranted.
· Outcomes – Skill building together is a confidence booster and strengthens self-esteem. The goal is that one day they are able to put together a meal for the family from beginning to end on their own, and know how very capable they are! Enjoy your time cooking together – you’re building lifetime skills.