National Nutrition Month ® 2017 theme “Put your best fork forward” remind us that each bite counts and invites us to cook more at home. Considering that home cooked meals are usually healthier, teaching kids how to cook becomes a life saving skill we can help develop. The benefits of involving kids in the kitchen are short and long term: it helps broaden their palate, cultivates an appreciation for real ingredients, builds math skills and develops confidence. Plus, it’s a lot of fun! I have great memories of my mom and I cooking together and I’m now passing down the tradition to my 4-year old daughter. Parents may be afraid that cooking with kids will just mean more mess and more time. So, here are some tips to help parents get started:
1. Plan ahead and start small. You may need more time when cooking with kids, especially at the beginning and with younger kids. Choose one meal per week for which a child can be kitchen helper. Invite kids to be part of the recipe and ingredient selection. You may want to start with an easy side dish or dessert.
2. Find doable, age-appropriate tasks. It varies from child to child, but the following are some of the tasks they might be able to do at different stages:
2-to 3-years old: mixing and pouring ingredients, stirring and mashing, washing and drying produce, picking fresh herb leaves off stems and ripping them into small pieces, tearing up lettuce, peeling fruit with hands (tangerines, bananas), kneading dough, brushing oil with a pastry brush.
4- to 5-years old: all of the above plus cracking eggs, using a pepper grinder, measuring dry and wet ingredients, decorating cookies.
6- to 7-years old: all of the above plus whisking, grating, peeling, dicing and mincing fruits and vegetables (with supervision), greasing pans, shape patties and meatballs, plating.
8- to 9- years old: continue with the above tasks or decide if they are ready to take on more sophisticated tasks to follow an entire recipe and cook on a stove with supervision.
10- to 12- years old and up: after assessing how careful they are with heat, sharp tools and food safety, they might be able to work independently in the kitchen with an adult in the house.
3. Accept that not all children like to cook. In this case, they can help grabbing ingredients, washing produce, setting and clearing up the table, tasting dishes for seasoning. Their curiosity and interest in the kitchen may change over time.
4. Safety is a priority. An adult should always supervise cooking until you are certain that your child is old enough to handle the responsibility. Part of cooking with kids is teaching them kitchen and food safety.
5. Consider this experience as an investment! These mini chefs are more likely to eat what they made and become more audacious in trying new foods. Plus, by the age of 12 they can help prepare dinner before you get home. And by the time they leave home, you’ll feel good knowing they don’t need to rely on delivered or frozen dinners.
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