Are your kids or grandkids looking for activities to do this summer? Aside from being a fun project, encouraging kids to prepare and/or cook food can be a great opportunity to teach them life skills like cooking and food safety, nutrition/health tips, hygiene, and even math. It can also instill a sense of worth, accomplishment, and maturity in children as they enjoy the reward of eating the delicious end product. Over time, as their skills improve, they can even save you time when preparing food for the family.
Spending time in the kitchen isn’t just for older kids. Toddlers and preschoolers are usually very helpful. The level of assistance, tools/equipment used, and personal safety concerns depend on the child’s age, maturity, and previous kitchen experience. Younger, less experienced children will of course require supervision, but even with teenagers there can be no harm in the adult making sure that safety precautions are in place, particularly with regard to the use of knives and stove/oven.
The youngest children have fun collecting and holding ingredients to be used. They can assist with measuring, pouring, stirring, portioning, shaping, or pressing buttons on the blender, blender, or food processor. You can also help by rinsing fruits and vegetables before use. Older children may like to feel more grown up and help the younger ones with these activities.
Make sure work surfaces are at an appropriate height for the child’s height. If a stool or chair is warranted, ensure it is stable and does not pose a high risk of falling. This is particularly important around the hob and when handling knives.
Emphasize reading a recipe before you start. Gathering the ingredients for a recipe provides an opportunity to discuss what goes into the food and why. For example, what does the baking powder do? What other ingredients can make foods rise (baking soda, yeast, eggs, etc.)?
Explaining gauges is another place of education and can be a chance to practice math skills. How do the numbers on a recipe relate to the measuring spoons and cups? Older children can challenge you to solve math problems such as B. how much of each ingredient you would need if you doubled the recipe.
It’s also a perfect time to talk about nutrition. Ideally, choose recipes that are healthy or can be modified to make them healthier. Discuss which of the ingredients fit into one of the healthy food groups? Which ingredients don’t provide nutrients and/or should be more restricted (butter, sugar, processed meats, etc.)? How can the recipe be changed to make it healthier (e.g. use whole grains instead of refined grains, add more vegetables, reduce the amount of sugar, use lower-fat dairy, add some fruit/nuts, etc.)?
For all ages, there are some basics that need to be discussed before starting a food project. The importance of clean hands is the first rule. Washing hands is important not only before starting, but sometimes during food preparation, especially when handling raw eggs or raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Rules should also be established for tasting recipes that contain them (e.g. quick bread or pancake batter). Make it a habit to clean the work surface frequently and help clean up after the cooking project.
Knife safety is another important topic to discuss and review regularly. There are some great videos online that teach kids how to use knives safely (which have good reviews even for adults). Younger children or those with less kitchen experience can use blunt knives to cut soft foods, or you can purchase sturdy serrated plastic knives. Knife guards are also available that are held with the non-dominant hand to safely secure food while cutting. Children should be reminded never to stick a sharp knife in the soapy water used for washing as this can be dangerous.
Safety around the use of the stove and oven is another important issue. Keep oven mitts visible to remind them to use them. Emphasize turning off these devices as soon as they’re done.
The recipes you let the children prepare should be appropriate to the child’s age and experience. Let’s look at some kid-friendly recipe ideas. Baked goods are always a hit – quick breads, muffins, scones, pancakes/waffle batter, soft pretzels or other yeast breads/buns.
One-course meals can include soup, stew, chili, a veggie pizza over whole wheat, stir-fries, pasta dishes like lasagna or stuffed mussels, egg dishes like scrambled eggs, omelettes, or a crustless quiche. How about burritos, tacos or quesadillas? Kids have fun shaping foods like meatballs or turkey burgers. You might like to puree guacamole or hummus ingredients to eat with raw veggies. Kale chips are another easy recipe that can boost veggie intake.
Kids of all ages can help put together sandwiches, pita pockets, or wraps. Little kids love to use cookie cutters to shape their sandwiches into fun shapes. Cookie cutters can also be used to make “egg in a hole” – cut a shape into the center of a slice of bread, place the bread in an oiled or non-stick pan, crack a whole or scrambled egg into the opening, and from both Fry sides until egg is cooked.
Preparing the ingredients for California rolls and rolling them up can be great fun. Kids also love creating their own special formula for a smoothie in the blender. Let them prepare granola or a personalized healthy trail mix. These can be layered in a yoghurt fruit parfait for a healthy dessert.
So find ways to get the kids you know into the kitchen. It can be a fun project, as well as a chance to teach them some great life skills and nutrition tips while they have a great time together!
Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a registered, licensed nutritionist with nutrition counseling offices in York, ME and Portsmouth, NH. She was also a nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy, running workshops and providing guidance on sports nutrition across the country. (See www.pamstuppynutrition.com for more nutritional information, some healthy cooking tips and recipe ideas).