Spending time in the kitchen with your children can be creative and delicious! Cooking with parents allows children to learn valuable culinary skills that will last them a lifetime, develop good nutritional habits, channel their creative energies, improve coordination and dexterity through chopping and stirring, and gain a well-earned sense of pride (just watch them beam when they say, "I made it myself!").
Bear in mind that dinner will take longer to prepare with your kids' help. Indeed, the first few cooking sessions together, especially with young children, may involve more effort (and more mess!), so you'll need to add an extra dash of patience and a splash of humor to your cooking experience. Here are some activities to try with your kids as you set off on your great culinary adventure:
1. Post a pyramid. Post a copy of the Food Guide Pyramid on your refrigerator, and invite kids to help plan family meals that include the recommended servings from each of the food groups. This way they'll learn how to make sound nutritional choices and eat a balanced diet.
2. Encourage kids to participate. Every recipe has some type of valuable task a child can do, even if it's simply rinsing lettuce or cracking an egg. Let children do real work like scraping carrots, measuring ingredients, or whatever jobs they can perform safely at their age. Giving children a task shows them that food preparation is important. In addition, those who may be reluctant to eat vegetables or other foods might be less squeamish if they've had a hand in preparing them.
3. Have a cultural food night. Together with your kids, plan and make a meal from another country, such as Mexico, Italy, or Japan. Bring out a globe or look at a picture of the country and its people, and discuss how the geography and climate determine the types of food people eat and the ingredients they use.
4. Talk and read! Toddlers can learn simply by watching and listening. Give them measuring spoons or some plastic utensils to play with while you talk to them about what you're doing. Ask school-age kids to read a simple recipe out loud. This way, everyone knows what the recipe requires, and kids can practice their reading skills. After your child reads through the recipe, decide which tasks each child (and adult) will perform.
5. Divide or double recipes. When you cut a recipe in half or double it, you use essential math skills, such as division and multiplication. Pick simple recipes that are easy to halve or double, like soups and sauces. (Avoid baked goods like cookies and cakes, since they often don't turn out well when ingredients are altered.)
6. Shop with kids. Instead of simply dragging children along to the market, involve them in the shopping process. Ask children to weigh produce, so they can learn about weights and measures. Let kids practice math skills by counting out the money at the register. When kids help pick out foods to cook, they tend to eat them more readily. Let them choose a new healthy food to try each week, such as a fruit, vegetable, cheese, or bread (not a new cookie or candy!).
7. Be inventive. Think of creative ways to use your kitchen as a classroom. For instance, play the spice cabinet ABCs (A is for allspice, B is for basil, C is for curry, etc.). Explain how to set the table using a clock drawn on a paper plate (glasses go at the 2:00 position, forks are placed at 9:00, and so on). In one family I know, parents pick the main course and offer their kids a menu of side dishes (usually leftovers). The kids order from the menu and pay for the meal with play money. Not only do the kids think this is oodles of fun, but they also eagerly eat their meal while their parents find a welcome audience for leftovers!
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.