Children love to imitate adults, especially in the kitchen. They seem magically drawn to all of the whirring sounds, flashing lights and shiny utensils. And while it’s true that the kitchen can be dangerous territory for inquiring minds (and hands), don’t put up the “No Trespassing” sign just yet.
With the proper supervision, children can safely accomplish simple cooking tasks. They can retrieve ingredients from the cupboards and refrigerator, grease and flour pans, and measure and mix ingredients. While it may slow down the dinner-making process a bit, take comfort knowing that cooking is an educational experience for children (just don’t tell them). It helps them learn about measurements, encounter new vocabulary, and practice fine motor skills. More importantly, cooking provides a priceless bonding experience–a chance to be creative, ask questions and solve problems together.
Getting children to play a role in preparing family meals may teach them about nutrition while expanding their palates. Kids know they like jellybeans, but they might not understand why they can’t have their favorite “food” at every meal. Don’t expect finicky eaters to suddenly beg for shrimp scampi, but children are more likely to eat a food that they helped make.
You can build a little one’s cooking confidence by introducing a few easy recipes. Something as simple as spreading peanut butter and jelly on bread can provide a child with a sense of accomplishment, and you can up the creativity quotient by using cookie cutters to cut out fun shapes, like daisies and dinosaurs. For pre-readers, boxed instant cake mix has illustrated, easy-to-follow instructions. You can also turn to the hundreds of kid-friendly cookbooks for inspiration. Many of the books on the market today offer delicious and nutritious recipes that kids will enjoy making and eating.
Kid-sized play kitchens, utensils and pots and pans can help children refine their cooking skills in the playroom. A supply of Play-Doh or grocery-bought dried lentils in a variety of shapes and colors are cheap and easy ways to create a more hands on experience. You can even make your own homemade version of Play-Doh.
Finally, help children feel welcome in the kitchen by relinquishing a little control. It doesn’t matter if an eggshell slips into the batter or if things get a little messy (they will). Give them their own apron and set of cooking utensils to use and store in the kitchen and one day you may be rewarded with breakfast in bed. In the meantime, hope for some help with the dishes.