Who does the cooking in your household? It’s probably one of the adults…but are your kids part of it at all?
We’re here to show you how to bring everybody together and get kids involved in the kitchen. This is a great habit for the countless families following shelter-in-place orders and caring for kids who are at home instead of at school. But it’s also a healthy habit that your family can practice year-round.
Family Cooking Night: Calm or Chaotic?
In many households, the kitchen is the heart of the home. As a busy day winds down, the cook in the family starts mixing ingredients together and delicious aromas begin swirling around the room. Kids are eager to help measure out spices, stir sauces, or just be involved in the magic-making somehow.
Well, that’s how it goes in some families, at least. Elsewhere, kids might be on the brink of disaster in the playroom and parents are simply trying to remember to take out the casserole and keep the house from burning down. And yet, the meal somehow always ends up on the table (and usually not on the floor)!
Whatever cooking looks like in your family — total chaos or the highlight of your day — it’s a great opportunity to spend time with your little ones.
Benefits of Getting Kids Involved in the Kitchen
Parents eager to get dinner on the table will inevitably get frustrated and overwhelmed by delays, spills, and messes that result from little ones “helping out.” But, according to the New York Times, participating in the cooking process has many long-term benefits for children. Taking a step back and considering these can help ease your impatience and adjust your focus.
When you get kids involved in the kitchen, here’s what they’ll experience:
Knowing how to prepare foods and navigate the kitchen gives kids an empowered, “can do” attitude. They’ll feel self-confident and independent rather than poorly prepared. Plus, children who participate in meal-prep can feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in providing for their family members and making something delicious.
Healthier Eating Choices
Kids who feel confident preparing a balanced meal or snack are less likely to reach for easy junk foods in the pantry when hunger sets in. Additionally, picky eaters may be more open-minded about trying different foods if they’ve helped choose and prepare them, as the USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.org advises. The New York Times recommends that you avoid food shaming language — like labeling foods with a moral value using the terms “good” and “bad” — to help your kids establish a positive relationship with food.
Showing your kids how to work with food can open up conversations about nutrition, ingredients, and healthy eating habits. You can teach them how to read nutrition labels and discuss why certain nutrients are important for growing bodies. Additionally, kids can start to learn the differences between whole foods and artificial ingredients when you compare your home-cooked meal’s ingredients list with the one on the back of a TV dinner.
Flex Reading and Math Muscles
Getting your kids involved in the kitchen is a great way to test their knowledge of counting, addition, fractions, weights and measurements, and other practical math concepts. Choosing and following step-by-step recipes can also strengthen their reading comprehension skills. Discussing techniques like whisking, blending, stirring, folding, and other recipe terminology is a great way to promote literacy and expand your little one’s kitchen vocabulary.
Stronger Personal Connections
Meal prep time can turn into treasured family bonding moments for parents and kids on the go. Families can grow closer together by sharing recipes, cooking tricks, and warm memories passed down through the generations. Bringing a favorite recipe to a gathering is also a great conversation starter for kids and extended family members or family friends. Kids can also talk about their kitchen escapades with their peers to expand their worldview around different food cultures and family traditions.
Choosing Recipes and Ingredients Together
Getting your littles involved in meal planning and grocery shopping can be a great way to let them get creative. You can talk about the foods you all like to eat and the nutritional value of different meals and recipes.
It can also be fun to let kids modify recipes. You can share traditional family recipes, flip through cookbooks, scroll through recipes on our blog, or check out the USDA’s Kids in the Kitchen resource hub for kid-approved recipes.
Pampered Chef advises that your kids’ crazy cooking ideas might not be too palatable but suggests letting them run with it anyway. Since cooking is both an art and a science, your kids will definitely learn something in the process!
Assigning Age-Appropriate Meal-Prep Tasks
The National Institutes of Health’s We Can! Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition program has published a handy list of age-appropriate cooking tasks for little ones between ages two and six. For instance, your toddler can help wash and tear leafy greens and your kindergartener can help with more advanced steps like measuring out ingredients.
The Food Network also outlines more to-dos that older kids can participate in, but suggests emphasizing safety first. Discuss kitchen safety with the kids and check your child’s kitchen competencies before letting them slice and dice without supervision.
Let’s Get Cooking!
Cooking is a basic but essential life skill that your children will need to learn eventually — so why not start now? You’ll have fun — and exercise lots of patience — as you encourage your kiddos to learn, explore, collaborate, and even clean up.