Cooking can be a creative activity for your kids. If children see cooking as creative, imagine the recipes they can dream up. . . now and when they grow up. Children can also learn many things by being in the kitchen – from simple shapes, numbers & colors to learning about cultures around the world, including their own ethnic heritage.
Reading recipes and following directions will help children learn new words and concepts and how to plan ahead. Cooking is also a good opportunity to teach safety rules for handling kitchen utensils and for safe food practices. Allowing children to help with the cooking, will help them learn about nutrition, healthy foods, and portion sizes.
Use the Food Guide Pyramid to talk about healthy eating with your children. While helping to prepare a meal, your children can ask questions. They may want to know where a food comes from, how it grows, or how it gets to the grocery store.
If there is a cooking mistake, help them think about what happened and why. Was the problem in measuring, combining ingredients, using the wrong ingredient, pan or temperature?
In addition to measuring, cutting recipes in half or doubling recipes, more math concepts can be examined by calculating the cost of a recipe or the whole meal. Don’t overlook the possibility that cooking with your kids contributes to their emotional and social development.
When children learn how to cook they feel a sense of pride and pleasure related to self-confidence and self-worth. Children can develop a sense of independence by preparing simple snack foods themselves.
Children can also learn caring and compassion by sharing food with others. Through cooking, your children can learn art, science, social science, safety, nutrition, language/reading, math, and social skills. Be aware of your child’s developmental stage, but here are a few guidelines for children of different ages.
At 18-24 months, children are too young to cook but they can spend time in the kitchen with you. Let them get accustomed to routines; give them a soft cloth to clean off the table or high chair.
Two-year-olds have a short attention span but can clean fruits and vegetables, clean the table, tear, break or snap foods and dip foods into dips for family members.
Three-year-olds can work on developing hand muscles so give them tasks to do: wrap foil around food, wrap dough around meat or vegetable fillings, press dough into baking pan, pour from small plastic pitchers, mix with hands or wooden spoon in big containers with small mixtures, shake small jars of food, and spread foods using dull table knives.
Four-year-olds can develop more fine motor skills. They can peel eggs, oranges, corn, etc. They can roll, flatten, and mash foods. They can serve themselves, clear their dishes, and put things in the trash after the meal.
Five-year-olds can measure ingredients, cut soft foods, learn knife safety with the help of a caring adult, turn a grinder, beat with an egg beater and retrieving ingredients from the pantry or refrigerator.
A ten-year-old can do most kitchen tasks with the help of an adult. It is a win-win situation for youth and adults.
Being in the kitchen can teach skills, but it can also be a dangerous place for children.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Keep sharp objects out of children’s reach. Cover electrical outlets with plastic plug in protectors.
- Turn the handles of pots and pans on the stove inward so children can not reach them.
- Be careful not to leave hot food where children can reach it.
- Keep the temperature of your hot water below 120 degrees by turning down the temperature of the hot water heater.
- Avoid using tablecloths. Young children will pull on the tablecloth and objects on the table could fall down on the child.
- Store snack foods away from the stove so the children won’t get burned reaching for them.
- Keep young children away from the oven when baking.
- Keep young children in a safe place (high chair, playpen, etc.) while cooking to keep them away from kitchen hazards.
- Don’t allow appliance cords to dangle or hang over the edge of countertops or table edges to keep children safe from appliances falling on them.
- Older children tall enough to operate a microwave still need adult supervision.
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