Have you let your kids destroy the kitchen? (That is, do you let them help you cook?) Here are five reasons why you should!
By Sarah Jackson, Contributing Writer
I used to love to cook. I would pour a glass of wine, turn on some music, and spend hours chopping, sauteing, roasting, and testing out new recipes. Without batting an eye, I made homemade Gnocchi with a buttery-sage sauce or stuffed braised pork chops with arugula and citrus fruits on a Thursday night after work. My time in the kitchen was relaxing and enjoyable!
…and Then There Were Kids
Fast-forward 5 years and cooking dinner can be one of my most challenging times of the day — even if my plan is to simply reheat leftovers. And it’s not just the cooking, it’s the time I have to put in leading up to the point of cooking that can be so challenging.
Creating a meal-plan while trying to keep the pen out of the 2-year old’s hand is like an Olympic sport. While shopping, my 4-year old is either a firefighter or trash collector which means he rides on the side of the cart, and make lots of LOUD noises while sporadically jumping on and off to rescue people or to dump a can of “garbage” into the cart.
The 2-year old imitates the noises his older brother is making and has an amazing ability to clear a shelf with the slightest movement of his body — it’s a real talent. We don’t go unnoticed and there is no such thing as a quick stop at the store, as I’m sure any parent can relate to.
Once the food is purchased and meal preparation time has arrived, the real fun starts. Everyone wants to help. There is flour on the ceiling, smashed sweet potatoes under my feet, milk in my hair and dishes everywhere. What used to take me 30 minutes to prepare can now take an hour and a half.
Is this what meal prep looks like at your house? Why don’t I set more boundaries with my children? Wouldn’t it be easier if I set them in front of the TV so that I can cook?
Through the fights over pens, the yelling through the grocery store, messes during cooking, and lots of dishes to clean up, there is a lot of learning happening and some great healthy habits being formed!
1. Cooking Skills and Tools Safety
I cannot tell you how eye-opening it was for me to leave home and head to college to learn that not everyone knows how to cook! I was shocked that one of my roommates had never tasted a raw tomato before and another could cook nothing more than toast. They ended up relying on eating out or dishes from the freezer-aisle that cook in the microwave.
I learned that I was unique in that I could find random items in a fridge and create a full meal. I am confident that my kids will leave our home having basic kitchen skills and will know how to use kitchen tools safely. There are so many great tools out there for kids in the kitchen- but that’s for another post!
2. Confidence in the Kitchen
I want my kids to feel confident in their ability to cook so that they will. There are many convenient food options out there, but I don’t want convenience to trump healthy choices. I want to foster this confidence through letting them makes messes and make mistakes without judgment. I hope they have fun and make food they enjoy. We certainly have a list of favorite recipes that they love to help cook and they love to eat.
3. Time Management
My 4-year old already makes shopping lists and “charts” (as he calls them) to do his meal planning while I do mine. He brings his own list to the store (well, it makes it into the car at least).
My kids are learning time-management skills when they are involved in the process of creating the list, shopping at the store, cooking, and having food ready at dinner time. They are seeing how to multitask and prioritize when we have to get the roast in before we start chopping the veggies. Or when we have to pause working on the chili so we can get the cornbread in the oven.
4. Healthy Habits
Kids who spend time in the kitchen have the confidence to cook as adults, but they also know what a well-balanced meal looks like. They have seen their parents read the labels as the stores and purchase whole foods instead of processed foods. Perhaps they have even had a hand in growing and harvesting the food in a family or community garden. I can barely get the produce inside some days before my youngest takes bites out of every item. My kids know where their food comes from and how important food is to their health.
5. Basic Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic
I am all about experiential learning and believe many of us learn best when we are actively working through an experience. While my boys cannot read a recipe to me (yet!!), they are learning language through context, how valuable reading is, and how it is used in everyday life. They are seeing and learning about fractions and ratios. Plus, they are always helping me count, separating out items into categories and they see how our food changes with exposure to oxygen, when heated and when cooled.
They are learning the life cycles of plants and the various plant parts — just yesterday my son opened an almond and pointed out the “baby plant” inside. When they read about this stuff in a textbook later on in life they will have the experience behind them to really understand and make sense of the words on the page and how it translates into their own lives.
My kids love to cook and I love spending time with them in the kitchen. Cooking these days is a completely different ball game than before, but I love watching my children learn and have fun through the process. Perhaps when they are adults they will find joy in standing in the kitchen for hours just to prepare a meal for family and friends, and I’ll keep them company with a glass of wine in my hand.
Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in teaching your kids to cook, check out this free knife skills video, for kids 2 – 10! It’s part of the new Kids Cook Real Food ecourse, which is open for registration through Monday only, 1/18. There are three different modules, and you can get the one that applies to your kids, or all three. Grab that right here before it’s gone.