Giving Kids the Freedom to Cook

By Larraine Roulston:

We allow our kids to play in the sand, making imaginary dinners without direction. So why do most parents not allow “free range” in the kitchen? Is it our fear of burnt fingers or cuts from a knife or grater? Could it also be the thought of simply wasting food? In her article in the Washington Post entitled “Let your kids use sharp knives and hot stoves,” Aviva Goldfarb stated, “If we want our kids to love to cook and do it with confidence, we need to put aside our fears and let them do more than we are comfortable with in the kitchen.”bella cooking

As a new mom, I always enjoyed baking cookies with my kids —mess and all. Children want to help as well as to imitate what their parents do; therefore, creating cookies is a great activity. My theory is that even babies like to sit on the floor playing with pots and other kitchen gadgets to mimic the family chef. The life skill of baking also offers an opportunity to introduce fractions by measuring ingredients, and it keeps the cookie jar full! Another source of my children’s kitchen enjoyment revolved around making potions. With spices, a jar of water and a small variety of foods, I’d leave them to spin their magic. The concoctions generally were made in an attempt to fool us with some horrible tasting mixture. Aside from the fact that they had fun, it was usually a waste of food, even though all was eventually composted. In retrospect, I should have asked that they make something special to spread on toast. A further step beyond baking cookies, cakes and adding pizza toppings should have been making meals together.

My two young granddaughters recently took a cooking class at their local supermarket. Their older brother is taking a food and nutrition class at school, and for Mother’s Day he cooked up hash brown cups with eggs. The eldest boy in the family has a summer job as an all round helper at a lodge, where his kitchen talents earned him a position beside the chef in preparing food and baking muffins. As well, he creates the most marvelous soups — the latest being one of roasted peppers he prepared from scratch.

As my daughter-in-law says, “With two working parents, our four kids often have to fend for themselves which means making breakfast, their own lunches and an occasional dinner. It’s a good feeling knowing they are enjoying nutritional food rather than grabbing a bag of chips and a soda.”

Liam peeelingYouth who are at ease in the kitchen learn how to feed themselves. The challenge is to go beyond offering just the “safe” mixing tasks, to demonstrate also and then to watch children tackle trickier jobs with confidence. Show them how to turn on a stove element and be able to gauge when it is too hot to touch. Children do pay attention and will surprise you with their efforts.They will acquire skills to make healthy meals and at the same time appreciate the value of food.

With climate change, we do not know what the future holds or what type of education will best serve our children. We do know, however, that it will most likely involve food security; therefore, we need to encourage them to eat less meat, make organic choices, plant vegetable seeds, harvest, preserve, and make good use of the pantry. Our decision to endure a few minor kitchen mishaps in order to teach the art of cooking is a very worthwhile educational pursuit.

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Larraine authors a children’s adventure series on composting at www.castlecompost.com

Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

1 Comment

  1. Reply


    June 20, 2016

    Wonderful! I loved having the kids help. Like you say, they started with a wooden spoon and a metal spoon, and pots and pans. They quickly had a nice beat going with the different sounds of the wood and metal spoons.
    Before they could actually reach to counter, even when standing on the chair, I let them sit on the counter and “help” by giving them their own bit to work on. Flour and salt and sugar went all over, but we had fun.
    Their help continued as they grew. I used to make english tea cakes, and they were made out of a double rise dough. Because they asked, I told them a story of why the dough needed to be worked twice. Of course I then told them the real reason. They would kneed a bit of dough that fit into their hand, and we marked which one they had worked with. That little misshapen tea cake was theirs to eat first.
    I am often awed by their ability and creativity in baking and cooking.
    And they are smart about it. They know the nutrition values of each food.
    I was never a good cook, and only a bit better baker.
    So these “kids” outshine their teacher!

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