Cooking with Your Kids: Simple Guide for Beginners
By Tanni Haas
It’s Sunday afternoon and time to plan dinner. Cooking again? The first thing that comes to mind is to do what you always do: take a quick peek in the refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards and make a mental note of available ingredients. There’s nothing wrong with that. But here’s a suggestion that works for some families and could work for yours as well. Involve your kids in preparing the meals for the upcoming week! Yes, it’s more time-consuming than doing everything yourself, but it will teach them important lessons about planning, budgeting, responsibility, collaboration, math, and creativity.
Planning and Budgeting
Sit down with your kids, make a list of all the things you need for the upcoming week’s meals, and talk to them about how much that would cost. It’s good for kids to think about shopping that requires planning and budgeting. They will learn a lot from helping you purposefully look for all the items on your list. Whenever there’s a choice between similar items, ask them to compare prices to find the best deal and the one that fits your budget.
Responsibility and Collaboration
Planning and buying the ingredients for weekly meals will teach your little helpers important lessons, but so will actually preparing the food together. Making your kids your regular kitchen buddies (or sous chefs) will teach them about responsibility, not just for themselves but for the well-being of the whole family. Too many kids just slide into their chairs at the dinner table expecting food to magically appear before them. Once they start to actually prepare the food, they learn that it’s all a result of someone’s hard work. They will develop a whole new appreciation for all that you do every day and, maybe, just maybe, they’ll help you with cooking more often. They will also learn important lessons about collaboration. Preparing a meal, especially dinner, requires lots of prep work and a watchful eye on dishes in different stages of completion, including some on the stove or in the oven. They will learn that they need to pay attention to what others are doing around them and to help out when needed. While young kids can help clean fruits and vegetables and set the table, older kids can pretty much do everything else.
Math and Creativity
Your kids will also get important lessons in math and creativity. Depending on the size of your family, you may need to change some of the recipes to a different number of people than what the original recipes call for. That will require your kids to pull out their calculators and figure out how much they need of each ingredient. In the midst of cooking session you might realize you’re out of certain ingredients. When that happens, ask your kids to find alternative ingredients that might work. That will teach them to be creative in the kitchen. If you’re missing that key ingredient, there’s always “breakfast for dinner” option! And, yes, you can serve eggs with chopped up pieces of hotdog if you don’t happen to have any actual breakfast sausages around.
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.