Cooking With Kids: Little Helpers in the Kitchen

Cooking With Kids: Little Helpers in the Kitchen

Want to give kids an easy lesson in good nutrition - and more? Here's how to get them involved in preparing and cooking meals and snacks.

By Amanda Genge, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

Children are naturally inquisitive. They want to know where things come from and how they work. And while you might not have thought of your kitchen as a classroom, it is a place where kids can learn a lot, and not just about food and nutrition.

The many benefits of teaching kids to cook
Cooking with a parent helps a child develop math and reading skills plus learn about science. Time spent together mixing and measuring ingredients is a chance to bond and share family stories. Children who help prepare meals are often excited about eating the fruits of their labor. Even picky eaters have a hard time saying "no" to a dish they've helped create.

From meal planning to food prep
Start by involving kids in the grocery shopping. They can help with everything from creating a list to finding items in the store. Together, check out kid-friendly cookbooks for inspiration and recipes. Older children can work on nutritious meal plans and even help with coupons and budgeting. When it comes time to cook, having helped plan the meal, they'll already be engaged in the process and be more eager to pitch in.

Getting started in the kitchen
Before you let your little helper begin, set up a safe, kid-friendly workspace. The kitchen table is lower than a countertop, and may be more comfortable for children. If they still need a boost, use a sturdy stepstool. An exercise step platform works well for this purpose, too.

Don't forget to review these basic rules with your children before you get started, adjusting them as needed to suit your child's age and abilities.

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap. This is an important rule for kids and adults alike. Make sure everyone washes thoroughly after handling raw meat or eggs.
  • The oven and stove are for grown-ups. Little kids should be told that these appliances can get very hot and it's never OK to touch them.
  • Steer clear of knives, graters and other sharp tools. Keep these items out of reach, and give children safe plastic implements instead.

Helping hands: cooking skills for kids
Here are some fun and easy ways children can help in the kitchen. Don't forget to talk about colors, numbers, food groups and other concepts as you work together:

  • Sorting ingredients and putting them in order
  • Washing fruits and vegetables
  • Tearing lettuce or peeling bananas
  • Measuring ingredients using cups or spoons
  • Mixing with a spoon or whisk or mashing with a fork
  • Kneading or rolling dough, and cutting out cookies
  • Pouring batter into pans
  • Breaking eggs into a bowl
  • Making simple sandwiches or filling tacos
  • Cutting with a plastic knife

Remember that even if your recipe doesn't turn out perfectly - or you have a big mess to clean up when you're done - you'll have made memories together. And those will last longer than any culinary creation.

Sources:

  • Dairy Council of California. Meals Matter. Cooking with kids. Accessed: 08/11/2010
  • University of Maryland. Eat Smart, Be Fit Maryland. Cooking with kids: cooking tasks for kids. Accessed: 08/11/2010

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