The goal is learning, not perfection. Once you get into this headspace, it becomes easier—and more fun—to involve children in the food preparation process. That being said, the best time to do this would be when an imperfect final product, extra time and extra mess will not undo your day. Because if learning is the goal, then it had better be fun, right? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, here are five ways to enjoy cooking with your children.
Engage All the Senses
As adults, we sometimes forget how intimidating tasting a new food can be. To encourage their sense of adventure, help your child explore new foods using the other four senses first. Kneading dough, rinsing produce, popping popcorn and tearing lettuce help build positive, fun associations without having to dive headfirst into tasting that unfamiliar food.
Teach STEM Through Cooking
The subjects of science, technology, engineering and math are all the rage right now, and what better way to incorporate them into your home than cooking. Lean into these subjects by encouraging your child to read recipes. They are chock full of math concepts like counting, proportions and fractions. From there, your child can practice these skills by doing the measuring themselves.
Discuss the 'whys' behind recipe steps to bring out the science of food preparation. Why do we add eggs to baked goods, and what happens to the final product when we substitute applesauce instead? Helpful hint: Eggs give structure to baked goods. And while applesauce can be used to substitute small amounts of egg, the texture and density of your final product may change slightly.
Make It a Family Affair
Family meal preparation is an opportunity to connect your child to their roots by passing down recipes. Bring out this sense of belonging even further by having them help you find new, seasonal recipes to add to your family traditions. Prioritizing health and togetherness, over convenience, is a great way to lead by example in forming lifelong healthy habits—both in terms of physical health, as well as social and emotional health.
Keep It Safe
Teach your child the importance of staying safe while cooking by demonstrating the proper way to wash hands, hold a knife, how to use oven mitts to protect hands from heat and how to operate appliances safely. Set both yourself and your child up for success by only delegating age-appropriate tasks. By doing this, even toddlers can get involved—think tearing those lettuce leaves like mentioned earlier.
Ask for Input
Just like adults, children want to feel their voices are heard and valued. Involve your child when making your weekly shopping and meal list. When cooking together, allow your child to offer opinions about the food and ideas for where recipe adjustments can be made. Even something as simple as putting your child in charge of setting the table will help them feel invested in mealtime and valued as a contributing member of the family.
Here are a few recipe ideas to get you started:
Nimali, F. (November 6, 2019). American Academy of Pediatrics, 5 Great Reasons to Cook with Your Kids.
This newsletter has been peer-reviewed.