By Fredrica Syren:
My husband can’t cook for the life of him. Ok, well, he can kind of scramble some eggs and make pancakes from a mix. But that’s it. He says it’s because, as a child, he had no interest in learning to cook, and no one felt the need to teach him. This is the reason he believes whole heartedly that all three of our kids should learn to cook.
Teaching kids basic cooking skills sets them up for the future so well. First of all, they will be able to cook and feed themselves once they are on their own. But I really believe that teaching children cooking skills is also a great way to create curiosity to try new foods and broaden their palates, as well as teach them about nutrition and how foods are created.
So, yes, basically cooking is an important life skill and, with fun and patience, can be passed on. Children of all ages can learn and experiment in the kitchen while spending time with you. Make sure to establish some safety rules and get messy. Don’t worry about the mess; instead, focus on what you are creating together — memories.
Of course, if you’re going to have kids help out, it has to be the right time:when they are rested and the timing is right. I have found that involving kids (particularly my youngest) when I’m stressed or rushed equals disaster and is never fun for any of us. So I like to create easy dishes for them to participate in, and give them all an age-appropriate role. It’s so great to see how they each take their task to heart and try hard to do a good job, and how proud they always are of their accomplishments. I swear it makes them eat better, too, because they made the food.
My tips for cooking with kids are these:
- Plan ahead—Know what you’re cooking and how, and prep all the ingredients before having kids join in. This saves a lot of stress from running around trying to find things.
- Create simple dishes with few ingredients—Let’s face the fact that making an advanced dish is just going to make the kids lose interest. I found that making simple dishes like soup, pasta, pancakes, salad or smoothies is best because they take the least time and kids won’t get bored.
- Hygiene—Make sure everyone cleans his or her hands with soap and water before working with food, and explain why this is important.
- Choose kids’ task(s) before starting to cook—Plan ahead which step and task the child is going to help with so you prep for both the child and yourself.
- Safety—Always make sure little hands and bodies are safe in the kitchen: keep sharp objects away and keep the child away from open flames. Talk about safety, too, before starting the cooking. Set up ground rules from the get-go. For example, you can say, “These objects are for adults only”; “We never put our hands on the stove”; and “We stay far away when Mommy opens oven,” etc.
- Keep the mood light even in a disaster—Never yell or get angry with a child when cooking. He or she is doing the best they can and, yes, things won’t be perfect but that’s ok.
- Accept messes—Kids in a kitchen equals messes. Just accept it, and you, too, will have more fun.
- Compliment your assistant chef—Children look for your approval, so praise them over and over again for a good job done. And take pictures, lots of them☺