Why – and how – to get kids involved in the kitchen
Discovery Place Kids Huntersville
Just like any recipe, with some preparation, a can-do attitude and a little luck, involving kids in cooking can be a delicious treat.
The Museum’s I CAN Be Healthy area is a great place to reinforce the fun learned from cooking at home, and to let imaginations run wild. They can run the I CAN Be Healthy café, shop for food in the grocery store and visit the farm for fresh ideas on collecting eggs, vegetables and more. There’s a life-size tractor, checkouts that beep and ovens that bring to life the joy of cooking.
From there, you can move into your own kitchen with these useful tips.
Let your kids experiment with ingredients. Offer suggestions and advice but try not to constantly correct.
“Though each of my kids’ experiences were different, I saw that sparkle in all of their eyes as they dumped, mixed and then watched their makings rise in the oven, or as they shook that homemade dressing in a jar to watch the oil and vinegar mix and separate,” says Kiran Dodeja Smith, a mom of four, holistic health coach and founder of Easy Real Food. “What we sometimes forget is that kids are so curious. They want to experience and experiment; this helps them learn.”
Fail for the win
Some of the best recipes have been discovered by mistake, and many chefs – even world-renowned ones – continuously tweak and work to improve their recipes.
“Cooking is a craft, not an art. It takes a while to be a master in the kitchen, and mistakes will be made. Be patient and try not to get frustrated,” suggests Kim Reynolds, media and community relations manager, Publix Super Markets - Charlotte Division.
At the Museum we encourage kids to test, try and tinker in a safe environment, which also makes every visit different. After all, things would get pretty boring if there was no innovation in the kitchen.
Fun is the executive chef
When inspiring kids to cook, it’s important to make it fun for them.
“Cook food that they like and once they build their confidence, experiment with different types of food and recipes,” says Reynolds.
Start with something small and easy that they will be invested in – like prepping their own snack.
Planning and organizing are two very important keys to having fun in the kitchen with kids. While everyone wishes they had the TV-chef set-up where you have everything you need and it’s measured into perfect little dishes, one of the best reasons to act like you’re going live after the next commercial is because it gives you a chance to focus on the kids. If you’re running back and forth from the pantry and fridge it can get a bit stressful and zap the fun out of it.
Fun is the name of the game, but safety is this game’s first rule. Here are a few safety tips to get you started in the kitchen:
- While it’s obvious to wash hands first and often, don’t forget to think about those little feet. Tiny toes can easily be exposed to injury, whether from a dropped sharp knife or spilled hot stuff. Closed-toes shoes are recommended.
- Encourage your child to think everything is hot until proven otherwise.
- Begin to explain cross contamination in simple terms – such as your apron is for protection, not wiping your hands. Kids can begin to understand how to read a thermometer/know temperature safety zones and the safe internal temperatures of cooked food.
- Clean as you go. (Try to get them to apply this one to their bedrooms, too!)
- Teach kids how to use an age-appropriate knife. Show them the proper way to carry a knife and how to cut with one. In general, ages 3-4 can learn to cut things like bananas, avocados or cooked carrots with a butter knife or a plastic knife; kids 5-7 years old can test out a smaller paring to cut things like boiled eggs, cheese sticks and apple slices; and ages 8 – 11 could be ready for a chef’s knife to chop things like celery and strawberries.
Getting kids in the kitchen builds confidence and fosters creativity. Spending time reading and planning together can improve language skills and lays a foundation for critical thinking and inquiry-based learning.
And, to give hope to battle-weary parents of picky eaters (we see you), there’s some evidence that kids involved in grocery shopping and food prep become more open to trying and liking a variety of foods.
(Check out our blog here about the positive impact of connecting your kids with food.)