Cooking is an important life skill for all ages that’s why parents need to know when is a good time for teaching kids to cook.
Benefits of Teaching Kids to Cook
Cooking is an important skill for all ages but even more so for young budding chefs. Not only is it a life skill but it also builds confidence to tackle one of the fundemental parts of living: making food.
What you might not know is that there are some significant benefits to teaching your child cooking.
1. Cooking Stimulates Imaginative Play
It all starts with the kid-sized kitchen, where budding chefs-to-be imagine themselves making delightful dishes for one and all.
Or if you don’t have this, allow your child to investigate and play with non-breakable kitchen bowls, pots and pans, wooden and plastic spoons, etc.
Don’t forget Play Doh or even kid-sized kitchen tools. These items encourage creative play to creating interest in cooking and baking for real.
Did You Know? When you create for your children tasty treats by using a variety of mysterious (but well-known to you, of course) kitchen gadgets that varoom and whirl and other wonderful noises.
2. Promotes Healthy Eating Habits
Another benefit that occurs when you get kids involved in the kitchen is that they will begin to take charge of their own health.
Start by taking your child to the grocery store and identify the array of fruits and vegetables found there. Be sure to let them help find items on your grocery list and explain to them how you picked the best and ripest produce for your meals.
When at home, introduce them to a variety of fruits vegetables. Serve these with delicious dips that they can make themselves. You’ll find that offering healthy snacks on on a regular basis empowers them to make better choices for eating and snacking in the future.
Fructose and Sugar, polyunsaturated versus monounsaturated fats are just some vocabulary to explain as the new chefs become older. And, if you aren’t sure of these terms, make it a learning experience for all!
3. Cooking Cultivates Health and Safety Skills
One benefit of teaching kids to cook is that they will learn essential health and safety skills.
Cooking and baking can be fun but there’s also some parts of this experience that can be “hazardous” to one’s health. All cooks, young and old, need to know these health and safety skills and once learned, they’ll be ready for greater culinary experiences to come.
Just a couple of examples of this is the importance of washing hands, food safety when handling eggs, poultry, fish, and raw meat and good knife techniques. (Note: You can start out with kid-friendly plastic knifes at first.)
4. Strengthens Culinary Skills
Finally, something that is often overlooked are the truly educational benefits associated with cooking and baking.
This falls into the category of culinary skills–rather the art and science of making food.
• sharing the importance of using the freshest ingredients for best result; i.e., showing the results of baked goods when using fresh baking powder versus old.
• encouraging newbie chefs-in-training to initially follow recipes as they are written when they are first learning to cook and bake, in order to understand the process of recipe creation and implementation.
• reviewing package labels, including deciphering what those “scientific” words mean in the ingredients listing. Truth be told, your child might not know or understand what monosodium glutamate is, but they should know enough that if they can’t say it, it might not be good for them.
• understanding as best they can nutritional labels and how the breakdown of vitamins and minerals, protein, carbohydrates relate to a healthy diet.
RELATED: A Guide to Cookery Skills by Age
Teaching Kids to Cook: Start with the Basics
But exactly when and how does one teach a child to cook?
This can be a quandary for many folks. In truth, as parents, we know there are scary tools of the trade, knives being the first and foremost, along with the dreaded stove and oven being second.
And, no, we certainly don’t want our kids to get hurt. But the fact is eventually our children will become young adults one day and will need these skills to survive on their own.
So what to do?
The best way is start with the basics. There so many recipes that you can engage a child to actively participate in–even without the use of “dangerous tools of the trade.”
Have your children be active watchers. And, do this from little on. Then, engage them in everything from pressing cookies in mini muffin tins, to rolling up hot dogs for wiener roll-ups.
Hands-on learning inspires children to take on the task of creating their own one-of-a-kind recipes to share with the rest of the family.
What is important to note here is that cooking is a process. Learning starts much like a recipe with learning the ingredients necessary to carry out a recipe to what makes a chef a chef.
And, slowly but surely you’ll find yourself sharing those important safety skills needed in the kitchen but also how to allow your own child’s creativity to shine through in their signature dishes.
Of course, there will be mishaps and plenty of messes but the benefits of learning outweigh the momentary lapses that might occur. This is the path of a chef-in-training. But, the rewards are innumerable.
So with all these positive outcomes for teaching kids to cook, you might be wondering what might be good examples of recipes that are appropriate for each age group.
Here is a small sampling of recipes to start with:
Recipes for Kids Ages 3-5
Start out with easy recipes like “Ants on a Log” or Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches. The gooier the better!
Don’t forget, too, that kids this age can also help layer ingredients (if mom or dad do the fine chopping) for salads, pizzas and more.
Ants on a Log Recipe
With a plastic knife or spoon scoop out peanut butter and slather it in the “trough” of a celery stalk (log). Add some raisins (ants) and there you have it. A quick and easy snack that little ones are sure to love.
Cooking Note: Any sharp knife, stove or oven tasks need to be completed by an adult at this age. And, never leave a child unattended in the kitchen either. Way too many “dangers.”
Recipes for Kids Ages 7+
The recipe that has gotten the most rave reviews for this age group has to be hands down Pita Pizzas.
When my son was young, he brought over his friends to the house for dinner one night. To make the meal quick and easy to prepare, I had all of the ingredients for the pizza set out in bowls. This allowed each of his friends to create their own individual pizzas.
Besides being so delicious, recipes like this encourages kids of all ages to enjoy the art of cooking along with the joy of eating their own one-of-a-kind masterpieces.
From a mom’s point of view this Pita Pizzas are economical, too!
Recipes for Kids Ages 12+
But, if your teen hasn’t been initiated to cooking just yet, no worries. Anytime is a great time to share the love of cooking and baking. Start with the basics and work your way up to the more complex recipes. It’s that easy.
In addition, there are also plenty of kid-friendly cookbooks that offer step-by-step images for each recipe. This type of cookbook assists fledgling chefs-in-training by giving them confidence in their own mastery of the culinary skills.
Local Classes for Teaching Kids to Cook
Finally, I like the idea of introducing kids to other culinary opportunities like cooking classes. Here they can engage in supervised experiences in the kitchen with trained chefs who will teach your child even more about recipe creation and how they can add their own special touches to the food they create.
Nationally, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cooking opportunities for kids. Below, I’ve listed a handful of programs located here in South East Wisconsin as examples of such classes. Additionally, I’ve found the best results by Googling “cooking classes for kids – Your City”.
- The Petite Chef – Dousman, WI
- Mixing It Up – Union Grove, WI
- Milwaukee Creation – Milwaukee, WI
- The Secret Oven – Fox Point WI
- Superior Culinary Center – Milwaukee, WI
- Maggiano’s Little Chef Academy – Wauwatosa, WI
- Williams-Sonoma Junior Chef – Wauwatosa, WI
Teaching kids to cook is a great life skill, no matter what their age. So roll up your sleeves, don an apron and start cooking together. Bon Apetite!
For more family-friendly recipe ideas, be sure to check out Wisconsin Homemaker’s Recipe Section, as well as these kid-inspired favorites: