Parents can, understandably, be hesitant about letting their kids into their kitchen. There’re lots of little mishaps a toddler can run into: sharp kitchen corners, for one. Hot pot handles, for another. Yet those who ban their kids from the kitchen and the cooking process altogether should reconsider: there’s a dozen and more wonderful learning opportunities your child can have in the kitchen with you.
Kids are already drawn to the sounds and smells of the kitchen from an early age. Watching an adult cook, close up, is near-magical. Raw slabs of meat are transformed into perfect pies, unpeeled carrots get whittled down into pretty flowers, while other unappealing ingredients come to garnish the overall picture. Indulging your child’s curiosity could be equal parts educational and inspirational, if not formative to their lifelong interest in the culinary arts. You might be surprised at fast how your kid picks up certain skills, or masters a difficult part of a recipe.
But we’re sure you’ll enjoy the journey – and the memories – all the same.
The Learning Experience
No mother or father in their right mind is going to hand their kid an apple corer, or a paring knife for fun. It’s an education you’ll be giving them instead, artfully disguised with the most interesting props around: food!
- Kids can learn about addition and subtraction when you get them to use or rearrange individual ingredients, like pieces of fruit. The older kids can also learn about adding liquids, or get a better grasp on fractions, which could be illustrated by using measuring cups or ingredients sliced into parts).
- A kid’s general motor skills can be improved when they’re pouring liquids, mixing batter, peeling eggs or even cutting up fruits and veggies with kid-friendly plastic knives. When they’re a little older, you can also teach them how to make specialized cuts that their knives can handle.
- While not a skill that can be immediately measured, a kid’s sense of responsibility is increased in the kitchen. For instance: you can delegate them the task of sprinkling salt into the marinade; which in turn will boost their sense of self-regard and their determination to get the dish right.
- Often, a child’s earliest science experience is in the kitchen. This is where they learn about how solids can melt into liquids, or how different ingredients react to one another, or why certain ingredients are needed for certain dishes.
- Just imagine how many words and concepts they can learn when you teach them about different dishes! Sure: the words might be more specialized, but they’ll lend themselves to a further curiosity about what other words or concepts they don’t know – and this curiosity may not stay kitchen-based alone.
- Allowing your kids to help you with cooking also gives them some insight into your culture. Cultural ties are strengthened through food, and what better way to give your child a first-hand experience into a culture than through its unique dishes? Not only does it give you an opportunity to pass your heritage on, but it’ll encourage an open conversation about cultures and dishes attributed to different cultures, which their friends might enjoy.
Some Safety Measures
When there’s a child in the kitchen, it’s important to stress that they can get hurt if they’re not careful. Certain dishes or techniques can spray hot oil or sugar, so it’s better to keep them away from the stove or the frypan in these cases. Utensils that have been certified as child-safe are also a must! You surely know this – and fear this – but giving a child a sharpened knife rarely amounts to anything good.
Keeping your kitchen clean and tidy will also eventually come into consideration, but let’s face it: kids don’t have the best fine motor skills yet. Keep a mop or a rag handy for the spills they cause. As for their clothes, ask them to wear an apron when they’re doing their kitchen duties. Plus, wearing something “uniform-y” like what the “head chef” is wearing will make the experience feel a little more official, and special.
Lastly, you should consider how old the child is when asking them to complete certain tasks in the kitchen. Asking a six-year old to do something too complex, no matter how it’ll benefit their motor skills, might just make them frustrated and unhappy at the thought of cooking with you in the future. In the next section, you’ll learn the different responsibilities you can give your kids when they want to help you out.
Your child, depending on his or her age, can be given some responsibility when cooking a meal. When you’ve got a dish to cook, you can ask your kids to do any of the following age-appropriate activities:
Two to Three Years Old:
- Wash vegetables or fruit in a colander
- Remove corn husks
- Measure and/or add ingredients
- Pour ingredients
- Read ingredients out
- Mix soft batters by hand
- Press the button on different appliances such as a blender or food processor (just warn them beforehand that these appliances might make some noise)
Four to Seven Years Old:
- Chop soft fruit and vegetables with a blunt knife
- Squeeze the juice out of citrus fruit
- Peel eggs and fruits
- Crack eggs
- Measure dry ingredients with a liquid measuring cup
- Use an egg beater
Eight to Ten Years Old:
- Use a can opener
- Grate cheese
- Peel or separating eggs
- Invent simple recipes (for desserts or light snacks)
- Stirring food over a stove (though, they may still need to be supervised)
Ten Years Old and Above:
- By the age of ten, your kids will already have well-honed motor skills and will be able to do what you do. However, it’s still best to keep them away from sharp and hot objects. But during this age, they can already do most of their responsibilities without the need for intense supervision.
When you’ve taught your child about the basics of kitchen and cooking safety, you’re well on your way to honing the most valuable little sous-chef you can find! Who knows? Maybe someday you can pass on the torch to your kid, and he or she can be in charge of designing and cooking a set of courses for a future dinner party.