Cooking with Kids
Children love to be with their parents, love to do what they see their parents doing, and love to create. Add the fact that they’re usually hungry, and it’s easy to see why children so dearly love to help in the kitchen. (As opposed to always being assigned to setting the table – which, let’s face it, is bo-ring.) Having children lend a hand with meals may not be the fastest way to get dinner on the table, but the payoffs are enormous.
What kids learn from being allowed to help cook:
- They’re competent. From the toddler who’s allowed to push the button on the coffee grinder while his dad holds it to the teenager who, when called upon, can make a simple dinner for the family, the feeling of accomplishment that comes with mastering kitchen tasks is wonderful. True self-esteem comes not from constant praise, but from being able to do things.
- Following instructions pays off. There’s a place for unfettered, freeform play, of course, but it isn’t the kitchen. Cooking demands a certain amount of focus, an orderly, step-by-step way of doing things, and an observance of basic rules and mastery of techniques that lead to the most tangible sort of reward – something good to eat. As children get older, following recipes is terrific practice in planning, organizing, reading and math.
- Food does not appear mysteriously, fully cooked, from nowhere. Getting kids into the kitchen, like getting them into the garden, makes them familiar with wholesome, basic foods that are better for them than restaurant and processed meals, and teaches them healthy preparation techniques – all of which goes hand in hand with healthy eating. A child who helps wash and then spin the lettuce for his family’s salad, for example, is pretty much guaranteed to snack on it in the process, and any dish a child has the slightest hand in preparing will be worth at least a taste. Young cooks tend to be adventurous eaters.
- An invaluable life-skill – how to cook. There’s technique even to making toast and scrambling an egg, and it’s much easier – and more fun – to learn the fundamentals at home, while hanging out with people you love, than from videos or books. Kids who grow up “just knowing” their way around the kitchen are a step ahead all the way through life.
Canyon Ranch Corporate Chef Scott Uehlein is the father of three girls who often join him and their mother in the garden, at the farmers’ market and in the kitchen. He’s also the veteran of many a school and Girl Scout group cooking project. Here are his top kitchen activities for kids, beginning with toddler-level skills:
Pouring – “You measure, they pour. To them, that’s cooking.”
Pushing the button – “They adore being able to turn on a blender after you’ve made sure it’s safe. The roar, and the feeling of power, is so satisfying.”
Stirring – “This can get messy, of course, but it’s doable, even for tiny children. Give them a big bowl and a wooden spoon or a whisk and let ‘em go.”
Measuring – “Checking the recipe, scooping, leveling, dumping – these are things even younger children can do with coaching. And, like all of us, they get better with practice.”
Flipping – “Older kids can flip pancakes or toasted cheese sandwiches on the griddle, with supervision.”