Age Appropriate Tips to Get Your Kids Cooking
Sometimes it can feel like it’s more trouble than it’s worth to get our kids in the kitchen with us. If they are little, we worry about them making a big mess or hurting themselves. If they are older, it could be their attitude or lack of interest in hanging out with mom or dad. My daughter is now 16; and if you have a teenager, you too may be experiencing the blank stares he or she gives when entering the kitchen. Then there are the growth spurts and hormones that seem to disengage them and tangle up the teen brain from remembering how to even make a piece of toast!
The good news is that if you get your kids in the kitchen early, they will learn skills that will stick with them all through their lives and help build a foundation of healthy eating. They can also end up becoming a big help to you while you’re preparing family meals. The other thing to remember is that if they are involved in the meal making process, they are much more likely to want to eat what they helped create.
The most common cooking activity we have our kids start off with in the kitchen is usually baking. It’s easy to get a little one to get involved in making chocolate chip cookies or brownies. However, I want to emphasize that when kids are able to help create the more savory dishes, they will build culinary skills and confidence that will last a life time and will contribute to their more helpful and variety-filled diet.
Grocery Shopping Partners
There are pluses and minuses to having your children shop with you. On the not-so-positive side, we tend to spend more money (some figures as high as 30 percent more!) when we shop with our kids. Part of this is because we succumb to their demands for sugary cereal, soda and other unhealthy snacks. However, the pluses outweigh the minuses when we look at what we can teach our children about healthy ingredients. Always start in the produce aisle when shopping with your kids. Have them be involved by picking out ingredients by the color: “Go grab something red or green.” This sets them up to be part of meal planning and will start to broaden their horizons (and our own). Also, most produce floor clerks will let you taste a sample of the produce—ask them if you and your children can try a cherry tomato or a slice of a new variety of apple. It becomes a healthy field trip if you have a few extra minutes.
Learn Health Benefits of Ingredients Together
This is a reminder to all of us that our children actually do listen to us when it comes to issues related to their health. So don’t forget to teach them along the way! For example, dark greens are a great source of calcium that build strong bones; carrots are a great source of Vitamin A, which we need for healthy eyesight; berries are wonderful antioxidants; etc. Kids will remember these health tips long into their adult hood. When asking them to help plan the menu plan for dinner, ask them to look something up: What are the health benefits of mushrooms? How about asparagus or brown rice? This puts them in the position of “expert” for the evening and enables them to teach the family something interesting and helpful about the food you are all about to eat.
Below are some age-appropriate cooking activities you can enjoy with your kids to encourage their participation and appreciation in the kitchen:
- Picking fresh herbs (taking thyme leaves off of stems, plucking basil or parsley leaves)
- Stirring dry ingredients together
- Filling measuring cups and spoons with ingredients
- Shelling beans (fava’s, summer peas, etc.)
- Taking grapes off of bunches
- Peeling fresh garlic
- Putting ingredients into the blender for salad dressings and smoothies
- Tearing lettuce for salads
(all of the above, plus:)
- Cutting tomatoes with a small serrated knife (supervised)
- Cracking eggs
- Coating meats with dry rubs and marinades
- Making basic pastries
- Cutting kale and Swiss chard (supervised)
- Making hummus
- Washing fruits and veggies
11 and above
(all of the above, plus:)
This is the age that most kids can start cooking simple meals. They will still need supervision when using a knife, and if they are anywhere near open flames. Some easy meal ideas include:
- Scrambled eggs
- Chicken breast with spice rub (using a press grill)
- Whole grain muffin “pizzas”
For centuries, skills in the kitchen have been passed down from generation to generation. Over the past several decades, it seems this has become less and less a tradition. Let’s be part of the movement to empower our kids to grow up and be able to cook, care for and nourish themselves and their families by passing up the drive-thru and preparing nutritious and delicious meals!