How to get your kids into cooking and baking

Cooking together with your child is a fantastic way to get them interested in healthy eating while teaching them an important life skill. When the weather's bad and when it's hard to get out, cooking together can be a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon as a family.

Kids can learn a lot from their time spent in the kitchen. They can apply their math and reading skills when interpreting recipes while also gaining a better understanding of nutrition and chemistry. A survey conducted for the Uncle Ben’s Beginners cooking show discovered that 90 per cent of parents strongly believe that it's important for their children to learn how to cook. Unfortunately, this ideal is hard to live up to, as only one-third of the respondents said they actually do spend time cooking with their kids on a weekly basis.

With everyone spending more time at home, there is a great opportunity right now to get your kids interested in cooking and baking.

Special "occasions are a great opportunity to celebrate community, foster relationships, create delicious treats, and share stories and family recipes. If you find yourself in the kitchen… I challenge you to use this opportunity to introduce kids to the joys of cooking and baking,” said Amy Henschen, a 4-H Youth Development Specialist with the University of Illinois Extension.

But it's never the wrong time of the year for parents to pass on their family food traditions and recipes to the next generation. Whether you intend to make a sumptuous weekday casserole or a trademark holiday pie, ensure you’re sharing these techniques and recipes with your child. And cooking isn’t the only thing that can happen in the kitchen. You can use the opportunity to share some family stories. Informal conversations while cooking with your family can greatly strengthen your communication and emotional bond, allowing you to get in touch with your roots and passing on traditions or family history.

Depending on their age, cooking with kids does require a lot of patience and practice. In fact, to incite their interest, you may have to try out several things, like introducing them to cooking games for kids. Once they get comfortable being in the kitchen and know their way around, there’s a higher chance of them wanting to make time to cook frequently once they’re older. Besides, homemade meals tend to be much healthier and cheaper than ordering food or eating out.

So, at what age can kids start helping out in the kitchen? Well, many parents aren’t exactly sure if it’s safe yet for their young children to help out in the kitchen. Nevertheless, there’s a way to find a task for every child in the kitchen—even if it's something as little as holding a spoon or cleaning a surface. If you're creative and patient, children as young as 2 can start helping out in the kitchen.

Before you invite your child into the kitchen, however, be sure to move any possible hazard out of the way: keep kids away from sharp utensils, heavy pots, hot items, and cleaning agents. But don't hide these things out of sight if you can avoid it. It's mportant for children to understand the dangers in order to avoid them. Having all the tools present in the kitchen while you cook or bake will get children familiar with the environment sooner and give them the drive to learn more.

Getting the kids involved takes a bit of planning since they won't have the patience to wait for you to look up instructions or to gather all the necessary ingredients—although grocery shopping together can also extend children's food knowledge and even get them familiar with budgeting.

Consider looking at your recipe and the process involved in cooking or baking before you invite the kids to join. This allows you to identify the different ways in which your kid can help out. For children between 2 to 5 years old, you can teach them how to mix simple ingredients, squash fruits, take out ingredients from the cupboards, pre-heat the oven, and break apart lettuce for a salad. Older kids can be given tasks like measuring ingredients; chopping, peeling, and pounding fruits, vegetables, chicken and meat; simmering and baking foods; and using cooking appliances in general.

The time spent cooking with your children in the kitchen can be useful in passing along good habits like identifying healthy ingredients and proper handwashing. Recipe measurements can improve their math skills, and chopping vegetables or meat can be great for improving their motor skills.

Working with the kids on meals can be a great way to get out of the weekday rut. Try setting aside one day a week to make dinner together and share the rich family traditions and histories that go into every meal. It's a bit more work for you when it comes to planning and cleaning up, especially at first, but the opportunity for enriching family time and teaching children essential life skills is invaluable. Cooking together can also improve your children's self-confidence as they take on more and more responsibilities over time.


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