With the cool, crisp air of fall, now is the perfect time to take to the kitchen with your child. The bursting flavors of fall are unlike any other. Apples, cider, pumpkins, and spice are seasonal flavors we crave, making this a great time of the year to help the most finicky of eaters try new foods and develop his/her palate. Taking time to cook with your child may be the most valuable time that you spend together.
1. Cooking is an essential life skill.
When children learn to cook at an early age, they see how individual ingredients are mixed together and transformed into a delicious dish enjoyed or shared with the family. Cooking teaches children that it is a process involving planning, shopping, prepping, the actual cooking, and clean up. This also gives parents and children the opportunity to shop together for the freshest ingredients to enjoy healthy foods.
2. Cooking helps build and maintain relationships.
First, taking the time to cook with your child means plenty of time to engage in conversation about his day and what’s on her mind. Second, you can show the value of teamwork behind a delicious recipe. Give your child a spoon to mix the ingredients while you chop the vegetables. Building and maintaining relationships can happen at any age and what a better place than in the kitchen together.
3. Cooking together increases reading skills.
Children spend most of their reading time either being read to or reading fiction books. Reading a cookbook or recipe provides a valuable skill in learning to follow step-by-step directions. I suggest reading through the recipe together first, allowing your child to ask questions and make sure he understands the process. This will also show you the level of assistance she may need as you move through the cooking process together.
4. Cooking strengthens math skills.
I can’t think of a more natural place to bolster math skills than in the kitchen. Real-life opportunities are provided in counting, addition, temperature, and especially understanding and applying fraction skills. This is the a perfect time to learn that a fraction is part of a whole! Through my years in education, I saw that children who spend time in the kitchen may be more proficient in math in the classroom.
5. Cooking improves language skills.
Cooking introduces new vocabulary words. Whether you are reading the recipe to your child or if he’s reading it independently, the recipe can introduce real-life vocabulary in a real-life experience. Homonyms—words that are spelled differently, sound alike and have different meanings—are a perfect example. I found the following list of cooking homonyms at lifeskillet.com.
- Pear, pair, pare
- Mousse, moose
- Steak, stake
- Cereal, serial
- Whey, way
- Meat, meet
- Leek, leak
- Thyme, time
- Peaks, peeks
- Flour, flower
- Lean, lean (a true homonym)
- Pea, pee
- Grate, great
- Two, too, to
- Fowl, foul
- Piece, peace
This list shows that it’s easy to understand how children must be provided opportunities and learn the words to be proficient in the kitchen. Children’s language skills grow exponentially when given opportunities to cook with you.
6. Cooking together fosters healthy eating.
Children given the opportunity to cook have a sense of ownership and pride with the finished product. This makes a great time to introduce new and healthy food choices. Research shows that healthy eating habits developed at an early age will last a lifetime.
7. Cooking teaches children about the world.
When cooking, you use ingredients from around your state, our country and the world. Visiting a local farmers market or orchard shows children first-hand that many fresh food products are available locally. Living in southeastern Michigan, we used to travel to Traverse City in the summer to attend the Cherry Festival, where my children learned that many products available in our state are sent around the globe for others to enjoy. If you are making a dish with rice, talk with your child about where the rice is from and how far it had to come to get to your local market.
8. Cooking together creates memories and helps keep family traditions alive.
In our family, nothing is more important than keeping our family kitchen traditions alive. I learned them from my mother and grandmother and I’ve shared them with my children. Inviting your child into the kitchen while talking about the past creates memories of people and time spent together. In addition, following well-loved recipes from family members is fun for children, as well as the anticipation of a holiday and the foods that we associate with it.
9. Cooking with children increases their confidence.
Many people who don’t know their way around the kitchen proclaim to be poor cooks. Providing cooking experiences for children at an early age and continuing this together into the teen years may alleviate that, providing the confidence to prepare food for themselves and others as they grow. When others provide positive feedback on what we cook, we are likely going to cook more and try new things. When people we cook for give the “thumbs up,” children feel proud and look forward for the opportunity to cook again.
You may be wondering, “When is a good time to start cooking with my child?” I say the earlier the better. Read the recipe to your child and model the action you’d like him to do. Avoid giving a knife or sharp object to cut ingredients to your child until you know that she can handle it safely. Please keep young children away from heat sources, such as stove burners or ovens, until you know they can handle them safely as well.
As a parent, you know that your child may ask you to read a book to him multiple times. The same is true with cooking. If she has success with a recipe, she may want to make it several times. That is OK. Like reading a book, once your child feels that he has mastered it, you will move on to a new recipe.
– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.