Summer break is just around the corner and getting food on table is sure to become an even bigger challenge, what with the kids running around, exploring, experimenting, getting excited about each and every new finding. So, in order to keep them busy, playing and learning, all the while under your watchful eye, involve them in meal preparation. Even very small kids can help. Personally, I find cooking an upgrade to crafting, because you don’t have to worry later on where to hang the work of art or how long you need to keep it before throwing it away. It still promotes fine motor skills, creativity and cognitive abilities, but in a more efficient and tastier ways.
If you have ever wondered why
The truth is, you should not say no to the extra help around the kitchen. And, although learning takes time, and you are already spending too much of it in meal preparation, think of engaging your kids as a small investment you’ll make to reap significant benefits later on. With proper support and good instructions, it won’t take more than a few tries to get it right, or nearly right, so the earlier you start, the sooner they’ll learn how to lend you a helping hand.
When children are involved in getting their meals ready, not only do they start feeling better about themselves, more capable and independent, but it also makes them feel better about their food: they are readier to experiment with new tastes and textures and knowing where the food comes from makes them more confident about it being safe to eat. There’s also the IKEA effect, of course: children will eat meals they themselves prepared with more enthusiasm than the meals that were just put in front of them at dinner.
Things to keep in mind
- First, as I already mentioned, even very young children can be involved. Here is a list of different skills your child can handle around the kitchen at different ages.
- Second, provide enough learning opportunities and kitchen utensils to use. Rely on your dishwasher to help you clean up afterwards: the whole idea of engaging your kids in getting the meal ready is to relieve you from some aspects of housework, not to make you work more.
- Third, if preparing meals is a new activity for your child, make sure the cooking classes’ topics you cover start from ground zero. It means teaching them how to hold a knife and how to hold a vegetable they are about to cut, to avoid any accidents. Remind them to keep their eyes on the knife while they are cutting and put the knife down every time it is not in use, like when they are moving the chopped vegetable to a plate. Katie Kimball from Kitchen Stewarship has a great pair of knife rules for children: “knife cuts, eyes down” and “food moves, knife down”.
- Fourth, relax. The kids, and just about everybody else, will enjoy the kitchen adventure much more if you keep it playful. They are learning and it’s a process, turning it into a joyful activity will buffer against any frustration causing them to give up early on. No mistake is too big not to be corrected without a lot of fuss, especially if you keep smiling. Just bask in their profound delight as they discover new skills and powers.
Go ahead, give it a try!
As my kids were standing at the kitchen counter the other day, preparing a salad, the older one said happily “Nothing beats cooking with mom!” It made my heart jump with joy. Actually, nothing beats having happy, independent, well nourished children, and you can do it all with one stroke by teaching them how to prepare real food for themselves.
Just make it fun and remember to keep your expectations low and your emotions in check, turning your children into chefs will not happen overnight, so be patient and give them time.