Parents, grandparents and youngsters cooking together in the kitchen today is a lost art in many households. These days it’s hard for busy parents to take time out to teach their kids basic cooking techniques.
It’s true that including the kids in cooking meals requires time, patience, and some extra clean-up, especially when the children are younger. But many experts think it is well worth the effort.
Cooking offers children a variety of learning experiences. It’s a practical way to teach kids basic life skills, as well as academic skills involving reading, science and math. Time spent together in the kitchen also encourages interaction and communication between parents and children. The entire family benefits from healthy meals, a sense of shared accomplishment and the enjoyment of each other’s company.
Cooking with kids can help get them interested in trying healthy foods they might normally turn their noses up at. Susan Moores, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says she has seen this happen countless times. It’s true that kids will be kids — they’ll snack on chips at a school party or enjoy ice cream on a hot day. But what is most important is how they eat most of the time, Moores says. And that’s where parents can play a role. Keep in mind that for kids today, healthy eating essentially means eating more fruits and vegetables, having whole grains and beans when possible, and choosing leaner types of animal foods (even some fish every now and then.)
Some of the short-term benefits of cooking with kids:
It encourages kids to try healthy foods.
Kids feel like they are accomplishing something and contributing to the family.
Kids are more likely to sit down to a family meal when they helped prepare it.
Parents get to spend quality time with their kids.
Kids aren’t spending time in front of the TV or computer while they’re cooking.
Kids generally aren’t eating junk food when they’re cooking a meal at home.
Some long-term benefits:
Learning to cook is a skill your children can use for the rest of their lives.
Kids who learn to eat well may be more likely to eat healthfully as adults.
Positive cooking experiences can help build self-confidence.
How to Start Cooking with Your Kids
One good place to start is the first meal of the day: breakfast. Evidence suggests that eating breakfast improves memory and test grades and certainly can set up the day for success with a full stomach.
Pressed for time in the morning? Start cooking breakfast with your kids on the weekends, during the summer months, or on school holidays. You can have your kids help put together the ingredients of a smoothie and you can blend for an instant, healthy and quick breakfast or snack.
For many, dinner offers the best opportunity for cooking with children day in and day out. One tip: Set out some washed and sliced fruits and vegetables to munch on, and nutritious or zero-calorie beverages to sip while you’re cooking. This means the children (and you!) will be less likely to nibble on the dinner ingredients while you work.
And just how old do children have to be to help out in the kitchen? Many start to express an interest in cooking at around 2 or 3, and that’s not too early to start.
Especially for younger children, it’s important to set your kids up for success. Structure the work area so they are less likely to spill and have some clean up tools on hand so you can clean up together.
Remember that the easier dishes are to prepare, the more likely the kids will try making them again. Here are some age-appropriate cooking skills children should be able to master.
Under 5 years old:
Scrub, dip, tear, break, and snap (for example, snapping the ends off green beans)
Peel (some items), roll, juice, and mash
Measure and pour some ingredients
8-10 years olds:
Everything listed above, plus some more advanced duties (with adult supervision) such as:
Cracking and separating eggs
Reading some recipes by themselves
Using the electric mixer (with adult supervision if needed)
Stirring food over the stove (with adult supervision if needed)
Cutting vegetables, fruits, etc. (using a plastic knife or dinner knife)
Here are a few recipes that your children should enjoy making ¬ and eating.
This pizza can be assembled by children of any age, though the baking needs to be done by someone aged preteen to adult.
1 large pita bread (use whole-grain if available)
1/8 cup low-fat cheese of choice to sprinkle on top
1/8 cup bottled pizza sauce or marinara sauce
Favourite pizza toppings (sliced mushrooms, less-fat pepperoni, turkey pepperoni or lite salami, chopped green pepper or green onions, chopped red onion, pineapple chunks, and lean ham, etc.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rub the pita with a small amount of olive oil on both sides.
Spoon the pizza sauce on pita and cover with desired topping. Sprinkle with cheese over the top and bake for 6-8 minutes (watch carefully so it doesn’t burn).
Yield: 1 serving
Per serving (using whole-wheat pita and not including extra toppings): 256 calories, 16 g protein, 29.5 g carbohydrate, 8.8 g fat, 4.7 g saturated fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 492 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 30%.
Breakfast Super Sandwich
This recipe is best for pre-teens and up (aged 10 and older), but younger kids could whisk the egg mixture and help toast the muffins in a toaster.
2 English muffins, toasted
1 large egg
1/4 cup egg substitute
2 slices turkey bacon
2 slices less-fat American or cheddar cheese slices
Canola cooking spray
Coat half of a 9” or 10” nonstick frying pan with canola cooking spray and heat over medium heat (with adult supervision). In a small bowl, beat the egg with egg substitute with a fork or whisk and set aside.
Place bacon in the pan, over the sprayed area. When bottom side of the bacon is light brown, flip over and cook other side until light brown. Remove bacon from pan and set aside.
Scramble eggs and set aside.
To assemble each sandwich, layer an English muffin bottom with a slice of cheese, then scrambled egg, a piece of bacon, and the muffin top.
Yield: 2 sandwiches
Per sandwich: 283 calories, 22 g protein, 27 g carbohydrate, 9 g fat, 3.9 g saturated fat, 2 g fiber, 808 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 30%.
SOURCES: Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 105, No. 5, 2005. Circulation, 111: 1999-2012, 2005. Susan Moores, MS, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association.
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, Someone’s in the Kitchen with Mommy.