Cooking is an important skill for all ages. Discover the benefits and best age for teaching kids to cook.
Chefs-In-Training Teaching Kids to Cook
One question that I get asked often is when to teach one’s child to cook. There are obvious benefits for doing so, but exactly when and how to teach one’s child to cook 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.
Besides, when your child is starting off learning to cook, there so many recipes that they can actively participate in–even without the use of these “tools of the trade.”
Personally, my own children have watched me cook from little on. And, I have tried to engage them in everything from pressing cookies in mini muffin tins to rolling up hot dogs for wiener roll ups. Through this type of hands-on learning they were eventually inspired to take on the task of creating their own one-of-a-kind recipes to share with the rest of the family.
I have always been a proponent of teaching kids to cook. It’s an essential life skill that everyone should learn, young and old.
What is important to note is that cooking is a process. Learning starts much like a recipe with learning what the ingredients to what makes a chef a chef.
It progresses by knowing the important skills needed not only for safety in the kitchen but also how to allow their own creativity to shine through in their signature dishes.
Sure there will be mishaps and plenty of messes but the benefits of learning outweigh the momentary lapses that might occur. Again, this is the way of a chef-in-training. The rewards are innumerable.
Benefits of Letting Kids Cook
Besides the joy of eating, there are other important benefits to letting kids cook.
Imaginative play is an essential skill for young toddlers and benefits kids to introduce them to the kitchen. It all begins with investigating and playing 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.
Another of the benefits 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!
Health and Safety Skills
One benefit that can’t be overstated is that your child 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.)
Finally, something that is overlooked are the truly educational benefits associated with cooking and baking.
There’s the art and science of baking. For example, using fresh baking powder versus old.
Or, why newbie chefs-in-training should initially follow recipes when they are first learning to cook and bake.
Or better still, the importance of reviewing packaging labels, including deciphering what those “scientific” words mean.
Truth be told, they may not know what monosodium glutamate is, but they should know enough that if they can’t say it, it may not be good for them.
RELATED: A Guide to Cookery Skills by Age
You might be wondering what might be good examples of recipes appropriate for each age group. The list is extensive, but here is is a VERY short list of recipes to start with and to grow from.
Start out with easy recipes like “Ants on a Log” or Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches. The gooier the better!
(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.”)
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.
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.
Baked Zucchini Cheddar Bites – Baking with Toddlers (Video)
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.
RECIPE: Easy Pita 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!
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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.
Raspberry Sorbet – Cooking with Amber (Video)
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!