Get Kids Involved in Meal Planning and Cooking
What can get your kids practicing math, learning about chemical reactions, and following directions? How about working on a team, solving problems, and being creative? I humbly submit that planning and preparing food for the family is a great way for kids to practice all these skills and more. And while, yes, I am biased, I do believe that in a digital age, there is a lot of value in the hands-on, all-senses-engaged practice of cooking. There are many evenings when I get home from work after hours and hours of staring at a screen, and really start to reconnect with myself and my family over chopping vegetables, stirring soups, and sharing conversation. I think kids can have a role in planning meals and nourishing families, regardless of their age or abilities.
Where Should My Kids Start?
Depending on your child’s age and developmental stage, there are a variety of ways to get them involved in feeding the family. The BBC’s Good Food website has great age-appropriate cookery (or cooking) skills for kids in the kitchen from under 3’s to 12 and older. They even share recipes that work for each stage. But remember, you know your child best, so choose activities that allow them to explore while keeping them safe.
When kids are in the kitchen, it is important to set up a safe place for them to learn and practice and start teaching safety rules. Kids may need a sturdy stool to see what’s going on at the counter as well as age-appropriate cookware. Younger kids may need items which are plastic (read: unbreakable) and older kids may be ready to use knives and cook with heat. Check out this blog post on 7 tips to for teaching kids knife skills, including the suggestion to use play-doh and a lettuce knife until you’re ready for more! Again, pick the right activities for your kids!
Here are some ideas for activities and recipes for kids:
UNDER 3 YEARS OLD
The littlest ones can still learn in the kitchen! Kids this age are exploring their world, so share different textures, smells, and sounds that happen in the kitchen. I imagine these little hands are also great for adding garnishes like cheese or croutons on salad or soup. Kids this age can also wash fruits and vegetables.
Kids ages 3–5 can start in on some more practical skills. Pick a recipe template (think sandwiches, pizzas, smoothies, baked potatoes) and let them pick the ingredients they want to use. Check out these recipes for cooking with 3 to 5 year olds. Kids this age can start helping to set the table and pick out fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. They may also enjoy playing in the dirt in the garden.
Kids ages 6–9 can take on more advanced cooking tasks like using sharper knives and using heat to cook. Kids these age may also be able to use small appliances, like a rice cooker, blender, food processor, or a grater. Ask them to pick a side dish to go with your main course, or a desert for a special occasion. Giving kids opportunities to make choices is really key in this stage - set up a kids’ lunch station or give them space to make their food fun. Be sure to enforce good food safety skills, too.
With a foundation of cooking skills, kids this age (with appropriate adult supervision) can exhibit a lot of independence in the kitchen. From finding recipes online to planning meals, this is a great age for kids to build confidence and take ownership of projects in the kitchen. Plan ahead with your teenagers to make sure they know at least some basics and will be able to care for themselves in the future.
All this said, it really never is too late to learn. When I was young, I could use the microwave to reheat frozen veggies, and I liked helping my mom cut out biscuits, but I didn't really have a lot of interest in cooking until I lived on my own and needed to eat on a budget. Since then, I have studied nutrition and dietetics, and I was able build a lot of practical experience and theoretical knowledge on nutrition, food preparation, and meal planning. Throughout my adult life, I’ve continued to love cooking and baking, exploring new techniques and skills. When I traveled to Guatemala last fall, I took cooking classes in Spanish, and recently completed a series of bread fundamentals and sourdough from the San Francisco Cooking School.
So have fun introducing your kids to the big, wide world of food. Read what this homeschooling mom shared about the great benefits to teaching kids to cook. The Internet is chock-full of tips and tricks, videos, recipes, and online communities. So get ready - wash your hands, set out your ingredients, and get cooking!
I hope that these tips for getting your kids involved in the kitchen promote a richer learning environment at home. For any questions about online school education, please call (866) 488-4818, or visit EnlightiumAcademy.com. Enlightium Academy is an accredited alternative education option for educating your child from home. Our program offers the comfort of a homeschool education environment and the quality of private school education curriculum. Enlightium Academy is a private Christian school that offers a Bible-based, flexible, accredited, teacher supported, and affordable education. Enlightium Academy meets all accreditation and state education requirements, while neither using the state curriculum or Common Core.