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10 Things Kids Learn When You Cook With Them

Cooking with children is often a more educational activity than one might think. The overall purpose of cooking with kids, in my house anyway, is to have fun. We often cook together on snow days, weekends, and sometimes after school. They are too young to be pressured with the responsibility of getting dinner on the table by a certain time, but they are old enough to make a solid contribution to our meals or cookie jar. My daughter has even started making homemade gifts for her friends at Christmas and Valentine’s Day! The funny thing is, since I’ve introduced her to the kitchen and a few basic recipes, I’ve noticed that she is learning a LOT. Two years ago she asked me about every single line in a recipe. “What does one-slash-two mean?” she would ask. “It means one-half cup,” I would reply. She didn’t know the difference between a whisk and a spoon, and would stay away from the stovetop because it frightened her so much.

Over time (with many mistakes!), her confidence has grown. Cooking together is something we love to do more each day, and I am amazed at how her skill set has expanded in such a short time. While it may seem overwhelming at first, I encourage you to pick a simple recipe, even as simple as making tea with milk and sugar, and make it with your children. Expect mistakes and spilled ingredients, and moments of doubt in their eyes. But with time you’ll notice they will start to pick up valuable bits of knowledge. The best part is they begin to learn the important skill of feeding themselves healthy food.

 

  • Math Skills 1 of 10
    Basic Math Skills

    Recipes introduce many basic math skills. For example, fractions are found in nearly every recipe, and learning the difference between 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4, is something everyone should know. If a recipe needs to be doubled then multiplication needs to be introduced, and all of the fractions should be multiplied by two. For younger kids you can also teach them a little bit about telling time. For example, if you need a recipe to be ready by 6 p.m., and it takes 10 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook, when should you begin preparing it? All of these simple, practical questions reinforce basic math skills that will serve them well in future kitchen endeavors.

     

    Photo: Kelsey Banfield

  • Basic Cooking Techniques 2 of 10
    Kitchen Techniques

    Other than in their play kitchen, it is safe to assume that kids don't know the difference between stirring, whisking, and spreading. These are all skills called for in the vast majority of recipes, and it is good to introduce them early. Whisking, for example, can be taught with scrambled eggs. Have the child crack a few eggs into a bowl, add some milk, and let them whisk away until they are frothy. It is impossible to over-whisk them! For stirring, try something simple like stirring flour and salt. No biggy if flour pitches over the side of the bowl, of course. These kitchen skills will only serve them well in the long run. The more comfortable they are, the better.

     

    Photo: Kelsey Banfield

  • Measuring 3 of 10
    Measuring Skills

    I have never met a child who does not enjoy measuring. Scooping flour out of the bin with a measuring cup and plopping it in the mixing bowl is endlessly satisfying to them. Start with a set of four basic measuring cups, and talk about which ones you'd use to measure out 1 1/4 cup of flour. Which one would you use for 3/4 cup? How do you measure large volumes like 4 1/2 cups? Every recipe is different, so they will constantly be challenged. Encourage your kids to learn about all kinds of measurements. Liquid, solid, metrics, cups, teaspoons, weights — the more they learn, the better. In many cases precise measurements are the difference between a recipe working or not. Teaching them to be patient and exact will not only be good practice for home cooking but for things like chemistry class in school.

     

    Photo: Kelsey Banfield

     

  • Temperature Control 4 of 10
    Temperature Control

    Only introduce the stove and oven to your children when you feel they are ready. Working on a stovetop is too much for younger children, but it is great for teenagers. Put a pot of water on the stove, and discuss what it takes to bring it to a rolling boil, a simmer, and a stagnant. Then, when they feel confident, task them with something simple like cooking pasta or boiling an egg. It is all about taking it slow and steady. Oven heat is important for them to understand too. Make a simple batter for banana bread then show them how it bakes at 350. Ask them what would happen at a lower temp? A higher temp? Learning how to control temperature takes practice and lots of trial and error. Encourage them to read the recipe and try what they think will work. Then discuss the results.

     

    Photo: Kelsey Banfield

  • Kitchen Safety 5 of 10
    Kitchen Safety

    One of the most important lessons to teach children is about kitchen safety. It doesn't have to be a lecture, however. When they cook with you, you can point out how you handle your knives safely. You can also show them how to safely dispose of grease, stay away from open flames, and generally follow safe kitchen practices. They more they cook with you, the more these safe practices will simply become habitual, and that is exactly what you want.

     

    Photo: Kelsey Banfield

  • Basic Knife Skills 6 of 10
    Basic Knife Skills

    Only hand your children knives when you think they are ready. I started my daughter with a simple paring knife and a piece of soft bread. I let her carefully cut the bread into many small pieces so she could see how it felt in her hand. As she got more comfortable I began putting her in charge of cutting more things. Teaching your child knife skills from the ground up will help them become a skilled cook, and they will start off safely under your watchful eye.

     

    Photo: Kelsey Banfield

  • Basic Science Skills 7 of 10
    Basic Science Skills

    You don't have to turn your kitchen into a lab for children to pick up basic science skills. They can make exploding volcanos at school, but at home you can introduce them to yeast and have them help you make a loaf of bread. You can also have them help you make a basic salad dressing (all the fun measuring!) and put them in charge of emulsifying. They might just see it as a step in a recipe at first, but over time they'll begin to ask you all the why questions. Why does the bread dough rise? Why does the oil and water separate? Why does the kettle water turn black when you pour hot water over a tea bag? All of these have basic scientific explanations and will be things they observe in the kitchen for the rest of their lives.

     

    Photo: Kelsey Banfield

  • Problem Solving 8 of 10
    Problem Solving

    Not every recipe is perfect, and not every measurement is exact. If something goes wrong, you and your child can work together to solve the problem. For example, is the soup too salty or not salty enough? What do we do if the chicken is undercooked in the center? All of these things are a good way to introduce children to the basic principles of problem solving, a skill which will serve them well in life. So many kitchen mistakes can be remedied with time and patience.

     

    Photo: Kelsey Banfield

  • Risk & Reward 9 of 10
    Risk & Reward

    When you cook something that is a little looser like pizza, or an omelet, encourage children to take risks. Are there new flavors they'd like to try? Any new spices you want to experiment with in the spice cabinet? Giving them the freedom to try something new will often be rewarded with great flavor and will encourage them to be adventurous cooks. Sure, there will be risks that don't turn out so well, and that is fine too. Like everything in life, not every recipe is going to turn out perfectly 100 percent of the time.

     

    Photo: Kelsey Banfield

  • Constructive Bonding 10 of 10
    Constructive Bonding

    While we are around our children 24/7 it is often easy to forget that it is important to engage in structured activities together. Cooking can and should be exciting and fun. The lessons listed here will come around in their own due time, and they will help build valuable life skills. The memories you make, however, will be priceless.

     

    Photo: Kelsey Banfield

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