Teaching children to prepare their own food gives them important skills and a sense of accomplishment. It’s a fun way for the family to spend time together and for you to teach important lessons about kitchen safety and nutritious eating habits.
Take your role as “head chef” seriously. Closely supervise kids to head off potentially dangerous mishaps and to teach them how to keep food safe. See General Safety Rules for Care Givers.
Make safety their first cooking lesson. As soon as kids begin helping with meal and snack preparation, teach them how to safely use appliances and utensils, and what to do if there’s an emergency. See the Top 10 Safety Rules for Kids. Be sure to start every cooking activity with hand-washing.
Assign age-appropriate tasks. Kids as young as 3 can help with simple tasks such as stirring a bowl of ingredients or tearing up lettuce for a salad. As kids get older, they can take on increasing responsibility, and teens can prepare many recipes by themselves. See Cooking Skills by Age.
Be strategic about nutrition. Most kids don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Have them lend a hand in preparing these foods because they’ll be more likely to eat them.
Make it a learning experience. Teach kids nutrition lessons about the food they’re preparing. For example, milk, cheese and yogurt contain calcium that helps build strong bones and teeth, while fruits, vegetables and whole grains have fiber that promotes regular bowel movements. Or have them look up the recommended Food Pyramid Servings for foods. Read recipes together and discuss the meaning of new words such as “knead” and “sauté.” Work on their math skills by giving them tasks such as measuring ingredients or counting the number of strokes when hand-mixing batter.
Share the fruits of your labor. Sharing your culinary creation gives you time to talk and reinforces cooking as a positive experience and an accomplishment for kids As a bonus, the family might enjoy cooking together so much that you do it more often and rely less on eating out or taking out—a step toward better nutrition for everyone.