Why it’s important to cook with your kids

Feb 7, 2013   //   by Adina   //   Chef's Blog  //  5 Comments

I know, I know. In today’s insanely busy world filled with overlapping baseball, soccer and karate practices, dance and gymnastics classes and play rehearsals, it’s a miracle if you sit down and eat with your families more than once a week, let alone actually get homemade meals on the table. So finding time to cook WITH your kids seems to be asking a bit much, right? Yet more and more experts say that the benefits of cooking with your kids are enormous.

When kids cook it, they are more apt to try it.
Let’s face it, kids can be stubborn. Place a plate of something outside the list of “five dinners I know they’ll eat” in front of them and somehow, without even tasting it, they know they aren’t going to like it. Take that same meal, have them prepare it, and see how willing they are to try it. Case in point: we bought my son a cook book for Chanukah this year and now he’s cooking, and tasting things he never would have had I just laid them on the table.

Follow the Directions!
How many times have your kids sat down to do their homework and almost instantly yelled to you, “I don’t get this!” My first instinct (and usually the correct one) is to ask if they have read the entire page, set of directions or problem all the way through. How can you make chicken parmesan without having the right cheese in the house? Why is your lemon filling melting on to your crust? Maybe because step five clearly stated to let your crust completely cool. Cooking forces kids to think clearly, be organized and follow the directions.

Reading/Vocabulary
My daughter has always been a reader. My son, he’d rather be doing anything but. I once had a teacher tell me that she didn’t care what the children read, the sports page, cereal box, or book as long as they were reading something every day. Why not a cookbook? Not only are your children reading a recipe, but most likely they are learning all sorts of useful vocabulary words. Let’s face it, your child is just as likely, if not more to use the words dice, sauté and simmer later on in life as they are yearn, liberate and bondage (yes, that was a fifth grade vocabulary word).

Math Skills
Weights, liquid measures, dry measures, basic counting, fractions, addition, multiplication, and division. It’s all there. Let’s face it, I know when I was a kid it was much more important to figure out just how many cookies you will get to eat if the recipe makes four dozen and you need to share them equally among your four family members, rather than how many days it takes to get from New York to California if the train is going 90 MPH. Who takes a train across the country anyway?

Science
Remember the science experiment where you made a volcano that erupted all over your house with just baking soda and vinegar? Kids love that, parents, not so much. You can teach the same lessons with baking. What happens if you leave the baking powder out of your muffins? Put too much baking soda in your cookies? It’s a lot less messy and you get to eat the results if you do it right.

Geography
What kid doesn’t love taco night? And while 10-15 years ago it wasn’t so easy to get a hold of red curry paste, or grape leaves or lemon grass, now most of these “exotic” ingredients are available right in the international aisle of the supermarket. Find out what region or country your kids are learning about in school and create a dinner around it. Nothing makes me happier than when my kids choose a sushi, Thai or Mexican restaurant over one of the endless pub-like restaurants that seem to be everywhere.

Art & Creativity
As one who tends to be a bit of a perfectionist in the kitchen (ok, maybe more than a bit) this was the hardest lesson for me to learn when cooking with my kids. So what if they are piling more sprinkles, candy and frosting on to the cupcake than there is cake and it’s leaning a bit? To them, it’s a work of art good enough to eat. Same goes for any meal. We eat with our eyes. Restaurants know this – which is why they take great care to place that one little melting pat of butter on top of your potato, or drizzle your plate with just a bit of extra sauce or add that one piece of mint on top of your dessert, just to create some color. One of the first times my kids made my husband and I breakfast, it was not just cinnamon toast on a plate. It came “plated” with a smiley face garnish of orange wedges and mini-marshmallows – and I was never more proud.

In the end, cooking should be fun. Because the more fun kids have, the more time they will want to spend doing it – and maybe if you get lucky, one day soon you’ll be able to take a night off while they cook dinner. I do!

Have you spent time cooking with your kids? Have they started eating new and different foods because they were the chef? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Sources:
http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/cooking-with-children
http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=541

5 Comments

  • Great post! I like how you break cooking down “across the curriculum!” Another good reason to get kids cooking is to make them feel comfortable and adept at the basics of handling and cooking with whole foods — so that they may be less inclined to rely (because of convenience, or cooking inexperience/phobia) on processed foods later in life. Cooking at home is a step towards a lifetime of healthy eating. One other thing I thought of with respect to math has to do with budgeting — cooking your own meals with basic whole foods tends to be less expensive than dining out or eating pre-packaged/processed foods. Certain kids may be interested in doing the math of how much each portion of a recipe ends up costing — and how that compares with similar dishes bought in restaurants or bought in prepared/frozen versions at the store. I would not have been one of those kids, but, still…. some kids might enjoy a challenge like being given a set amount of money to create a family meal.

  • Both good points Liz. My 12 year old son comes home starving and can now make himself something substantial like a grilled cheese rather than reach for bags of chips. And even my 9 year old daughter came home and made herself ants on a log (only using sliced carrots as the log because we had no celery). No doubt it is less expensive and much healthier to cook at home than go out. And for the record, I would not have been one of those kids either.

  • LOVE this!! great points! will be sharing with my family!! 🙂

  • Thanks Jen! I hope they get together and cook something for you to enjoy!

  • How true- maybe I should listen to you more. So, when I made my pumpkin pecan pancakes and couldn’t figure out why they were so thick, perhaps it was because I didn’t read the recipe well before I started, and didn’t prepare the ingredients- so, I forgot the oil and vinegar, and the pecans for the pumpkin pecan pancakes!! Yup- you’re right- reading, organization and preparation- it will serve the kids well in other areas of their lives as well.

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