Hi there! Welcome to Flawed yet Functional. I’m Emily Stauch, and I am passionate about taking control of your health by changing what you eat. There are great things that happen to your health when you change your diet and your lifestyle. But what about our kids? How do we change our kids’ health trajectory? It all starts in the kitchen. Today, let me share all my best tips about including kids in the kitchen, no matter your kids’ age! Check it out!
Why is Cooking with Kids Important?
First up, let’s start with the basics. Why should we go to the trouble of cooking with kids? Aren’t they accident-prone in the kitchen? Shouldn’t we caution them not to use sharp objects? Don’t we spend the first years of their life teaching them not to touch hot things?
The basic answer to all those questions is “yes, BUT.” Involving kids in the kitchen can be tricky, that’s a fact. There are dangerous things in the kitchen. There are sharp objects, heavy pans, and hot surfaces, but that is not a reason to keep them out of the cooking process. Those are just reasons why YOU should be in there with them to guide and instruct.
How will your kids know how to lead a healthy life and cook for themselves later on, unless you teach them?
Let’s look at four major reasons why cooking with kids is important.
To Know Where Meals Come From
Beyond just teaching kids that freshly cooked meals come from work and skill in the kitchen, you should also teach your kids the food cycle. Where does meat come from? How do vegetables grow? When is a fruit ripe? These things are not intuitive. They must be taught.
Taking the passive route and allowing your kids to just observe what you do in the kitchen will leave many disconnects for them. Make sure you are talking to them too. Take every opportunity to educate your kids about the food they eat.
For example, why does some meat have bones in it and others do not? It is a very basic concept, but one that not all kids realize. Meat comes from animals that have bones. The boneless meat found in the grocery store is a result of the butchering process. It is not a naturally occurring product. A natural follow-up conversation to this is why we shouldn’t be grossed out by bones in our meat. And the questions and conversations just keep going…
Why do we pick apples from the orchard in the fall yet the grocery store has them all year round? The seasonality of fruits and vegetables is not known when we live in a world with supermarkets that carry every type imaginable the whole year. Teach your kids when fruit and vegetables are ripe. Help them to appreciate a certain variety when it is in season. Discourage feeding the system by choosing when to eat vegetables that are imported from far away and when not. Cultural sensitivity, diversity, patience, and anticipation are all good things that can be taught in the kitchen just by talking about your food.
To Appreciate the Work of Preparing a Meal
When a child has a meal appear in front of him on the table day in and day out without seeing the accompanying work in the kitchen, that is another form of spoiling your child. Great effort and skill go into preparing a meal from scratch. Teach your kids to know and appreciate this hard work buy having them participate and observe in the kitchen regularly.
Later on in life, I hope my children experience a meal from another culture or family and are able to express sincere gratitude to the cook. No matter what type of food was placed in front of them and whether or not they liked it!
To Obtain the Tools to Maintain Good Health
Our society is plagued by diseases which are of a nutritional deficit in origin. Infectious diseases, of course, still exist, but the majority of ailments plaguing our society are due to a poor diet.
What better time than when they are young to instill the skills of cooking? Later, they will be able to cook for themselves and their future family and take the lead of a healthy life for them. Everything is easier when you learn it when you’re young, right? Just like learning to ski is easiest as a child, learning to cook and appreciate vegetables, fruit, and meat are easier when young.
Granted, they may not always like said food, but it is also a good skill to learn to eat what is put in front of you regardless of whether you like it or not. That skill of being able to eat anything or at least taste it will serve them well for the rest of their lives. They are bound to get put into social situations where new or foreign food is presented to them. I don’t know about you, but I want my kids to be able to taste it and appreciate it. If not for the taste, then for the work that went into it.
To Develop a Basic Life Skill
Schools are rapidly moving away from home economics type classes due to our country’s ever-growing obsession with test performance. It is a shame. Our future health depends on kids knowing how to cook and maintain a household.
However, the bulk of this responsibility to teach our kids to cook should be placed on the parent in the home. Your child will learn so much more by daily participating with you in the kitchen than he would ever learn in a school setting. While having your kids in the kitchen is work at first, encourage your kid to work alongside you so that they will develop these life skills naturally.
Set your kids up for success by teaching him or her to cook when they are young so that they are not unfamiliar in the kitchen when they finally go out on their own. It will even be a good skill to impress their future spouse!
How Should You Cook With Kids?
Now that the foundation is set of the importance of teaching your kids to cook, Let’s look at some practical ways for how you can involve your kids in the kitchen.
While I do advocate for kids performing actual tasks in the kitchen, do not neglect the importance of just observing and talking with you while you cook. Direct the conversation purposefully to educate your kids on the cooking process. Here are some things you could talk about:
- Why are you cooking what you are cooking?
- What is the process of cooking this meal? What comes first, second, or third?
- How are you chopping the vegetables? What is the name of that cutting technique?
- Why do you add oil to the pan before food?
- Why should you clean up as you go?
- What is the oven used for? Microwave? Instapot? Crockpot? Stove-top?
I could go on and on! The ideas for discussion simply while your child is watching you are endless. This is valuable time with your child, use it to its fullest to educate them!
Performing Kitchen Tasks
Kids can perform tasks like cutting, stirring, cleaning up, washing dishes, and loading the dishwasher even though they’re young! Choose age-appropriate tasks and tools to allow them to help you successfully.
Check out this post for knife tips for young kids!
What kid doesn’t love to play in a sink full of soapy water? Take advantage of their love of water and bubbles to let them help clean up. Now, I realize this sometimes creates more mess, but I think it’s a valuable skill to learn that cooking up a meal is actually work and a necessary task in the kitchen. Capitalize on their fun to get work done!
Putting Groceries Away
Some kitchen tasks are downright mundane. I find putting groceries away can easily take an hour, especially if I let myself get distracted. Why not have help? Put your kids to work with you! Let them help put things in the cupboard or decant into containers. Introduce the task as fun and helpful to you then your kids won’t see it as the chore that you do!
Selecting Recipes and Food
Nothing excites a kid more than being able to decide what food the family will eat. Allow your child to select a favorite recipe to make that week or even select a new and different vegetable from the grocery store to try. When you go to serve the vegetable or meal, let everyone know that a certain child selected it. They will beam with pride and will be happy to have been involved in feeding the family.
When Do You Include Kids in the Kitchen?
Perhaps you have wondered what age should a kid start cooking? What age can a child cut with a knife? When should I allow my child near the stove?
The answer is now. It’s never too early to include your kids in the kitchen. Obviously, you need to take age-appropriate precautions, but the kitchen should be a welcome place for children. No matter their age. Here are some age-appropriate tasks for children in the kitchen.
- Observe in a high chair or bouncy seat as a newborn. They are welcomed in the kitchen! Prove it by starting young. To include them in your cooking, make sure they are in a safe place where they cannot get burned or tripped on, and talk to them! Create an atmosphere of welcome by chatting it up with why and how you are doing each task.
- Let babies to even toddlers hold a wooden or plastic spoon and chew on it while you cook. When a child is too young to physically help in the kitchen, welcome their presence by giving them a safe tool to hold on to so they feel a part of the process. Be sure to take advantage of this one-on-one time to explain to them what you are cooking and all the details that go into preparing the meal. You can never talk too much to your children!
- Playing with vegetable scraps from your chopping in a bowl or just sitting on the floor. Kids will love this activity! Let them pretend they are cooking and encourage them in the creation of their masterpiece.
- Chopping vegetables with you. I have a variety of age-appropriate kids knives so that my kids can chop at a young age. They love a meal even more when they have helped prepare it. Take some time to learn age-appropriate skills and tools so that your children are safe when they provide real help in the kitchen.
- Taste and sample! A natural result of helping in the kitchen is tasting what you are cooking. Encourage your kids to try the ingredients, and if they ask to try a new food, always say yes! Don’t discourage them by saying “you won’t like that…” or “that’s too spicy for you…” Give them an appropriately sized taste depending on the food and let them draw their own conclusions. I’ve given my kids small amounts of raw jalapeno thinking they’d hate it only to find they loved it! (They get that from their dad, not me!)
- Stirring the pan while you add ingredients. If your child is old enough to stir gently, allow him or her to keep the food moving while you add new ingredients. They will be busting their buttons with pride that they helped you cook!
- Teach them to stir gently from a young age. Speaking of stirring, kids do not know how to stir gently. It is a learned skill. Use each cooking opportunity to teach them how to do so. If you teach this skill, then they become more useful in the kitchen. Begin by holding their hand on the spoon and demonstrating a gentle stir. Gradually work up to stirring by themselves and stirring food that jumps easily out of the bowl. It’s a work in progress. Encourage them to keep trying!
So why, how, and when should you include kids in the kitchen? Teaching kids to cook is important for their future health, it teaches necessary skills, and is so important it should be done now! Today is the day to begin welcoming your children into the kitchen so you can begin to impart this wonderful, necessary skill to your kids.