If a recent article in the Wall Street Journal—"Does It Count as a Family Dinner If It's Over in Eight Minutes?"—is any indicator of how time-rushed and overscheduled all of us are, is there any chance we parents can expect to raise kids who learn to, or want to, cook?
Of course key influencers like Michael Pollan and Mollie Katzen help more and more parents and their kids get into the kitchen. Pollan speaks to the importance of cooking in his latest book, Cooked, and Katzen inspires children and parents alike to cook with her many cookbooks, including her latest—The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation.
Despite the inspiration, many harried parents may still feel they don't have the time or skills needed to pass along cooking tips and know-how to their children. The good news is that when you break it down, it doesn't take much to get kids—especially little ones—interested in cooking.
Below you'll find six expert tips to help you instill excitement, adventure, and ritual into preparing family meals. Following these tips will help you help your kids develop fine motor and other skills. It will also teach them the value and joy associated with family meals, and give them bonding experiences—and memories—that are sure to last a lifetime.
Start with the basics. Since most young children are new to food preparation, Melissa Herrmann Dierks RDN, LDN, CDE suggests starting with the basics. "My 5-year-old old son and I start every meal by washing our hands and making sure that the food preparation area is clean," says Dierks.
Be prepared. Culinary nutritionist Jessica Cox, RD, encourages parents to allow kids to help with age-appropriate preparation tasks. "Depending on your child's age, he or she can help wash fresh produce, cut and chop ingredients, shred and grate, mash, crack and separate eggs, tear lettuce leaves, remove herbs from stems, and snap asparagus," says Cox.
Master the measure. Besides being good math practice, both Cox and Dierks agree learning to measure different kinds of foods has its perks for kids."You can use this opportunity to teach older children the difference between dry ingredient and liquid measuring cups and to practice math skills and measurement conversions," says Cox. Dierks encourages her son to measure and add ingredients, and to count when adding eggs to a recipe, for example. She says, "My son loves to make pudding, which includes measuring, stirring and pouring as well as the food safety tip of not licking the whisk! He also likes to help with chicken recipes that involve coating the chicken and adding toppings or shaking it in a baggie of panko or cornflake crumbs." She adds, "Spraying the cooking dish with non-stick cooking spray is also a favorite, especially for small children."
Stay safe. Dierks teaches her son basic food safety including not touching food with hands and keeping foods at the appropriate temperatures. She also teaches him basic kitchen safety such as how to stir a hot food on top of the range without touching the hot pan, and shows him how to do things like take a hot dish out of the oven.
Embrace the chaos...and have fun! Laura Chalela Hoover, MPH, RDN, Editor of Smart Eating for Kids, encourages parents to keep cooking with the kids light and fun. She says, "If your kids are on the young-side, don't expect perfection. And don't expect things to stay neat and tidy. Embrace the mess and chaos and take solace in knowing that you're not only bonding with your child, but you're teaching him or her important skills." For parents who don't have the time or energy to involve their children in preparing a real meal, Hoover recommends food-related science experiments or finding other ways to help kids explore food.
How do you encourage your kids to cook or help out when you prepare family meals?
Image of two kids measuring and mixing into large mixing bowl via Shutterstock.