The Kitchen Classroom – A Dietitian's Tips
By: Lisa McCune MS, MPH, RDN, LDN
Trying to keep your kids out of trouble, entertained and fed all at the same time? Time to get them in the kitchen classroom! Learning to cook is one of the most practical life lessons you can teach your child, not to mention a great way to make family memories. Lunchtime just became the learning lab, and you just got yourself a sous chef.
Why Learn to Cook?
Teaching kids how to cook sets them up to create healthy habits for life. Involving children in meal preparation can increase their vegetable intake in a few ways: It helps them to be more adventurous with food, gives them a sense of accomplishment and confidence, and sparks creativity.
Learning to cook is a hands-on math, science and reading lesson. If homeschooling is a challenge, you will be a hero for making learning fun and interactive by incorporating food into the lesson. The skillset of a cook can teach kids the ability to follow directions, the development of fine motor skills, good attention and focus. Don’t forget to enforce valuable life lessons such as healthy eating, hygiene (hand washing and cleaning up) and of course being independent by preparing meals for themselves!
Food is at the center of many of our most precious memories. Cooking with your kids helps you bond and can make for warm feelings of nostalgia in their future. Making meals together generates quality time spent together boosting morale and overall mood.
Tips to Get Cooking:
Spark their interest
Start involving your kids in meal planning and grocery shopping. Ask them what they want to eat or give them a few ingredients you have on hand and see if they can come up with a meal that includes those items. Let them help make a grocery list putting appropriate foods in categories such as fresh produce, pantry, meat, frozen foods, etc. By involving kids in this process, they will be more likely to try new foods, get creative and feel accomplished.
Before doing anything with kids in the kitchen, go over safety rules. Each parent may have specific rules, but basic rules to review include: Proper hand washing, kitchen attire (pull long hair back, wear non-slip shoes), using potholders for hot items, and knife safety (look for nylon knife sets designed for kids), and listening to the adult proving the instructions.
Assign age-appropriate tasks
- 3-5 years old: Kids this age love to help in the kitchen. Give them tasks such as using cookie cutters, rinsing produce with water, stirring ingredients in a bowl and clearing tabletops.
- 6-7 years old: This age can handle more complex tasks such as cracking eggs into a bowl, using a vegetable peeler and preparing lettuce for a salad.
- 8-9 years old: The skills related to this age group vary widely. Customize tasks according to your children’s maturity level. Some examples of appropriate tasks are using a can opener, measuring and mixing dry ingredients and juicing citrus fruits.
- 10-12 years old: Preteens want more independence. Give them more responsibility by letting them boil pasta and vegetables, slice and chop vegetables and simmer ingredients on the stove.
Choose kid-friendly recipes
Try adding vegetables to kid-friendly foods like pizza, macaroni and cheese and spaghetti. By starting with their favorite foods, they will be more likely to try it with additions.
Make it mini! Kids love bite-size food because it’s easy to eat and fun! Try meatloaf in a muffin pan or mini pizzas.