By Jenny Kleppe
At All Seasons Preschool, cooking is a regular activity. Children help read recipes, prepare and mix ingredients, and we enjoy the fruits of our labors at snack time. We focus on healthy recipes that all students can enjoy. This can be tricky when taking multiple allergies and food sensitivities into account. Why do our teachers make sure to incorporate food experiences into our day? First and foremost, cooking and baking are fun for all! Regardless of age or ability, everyone can participate in some part of the process. The sensory experience of preparing and eating food elicits positive associations and memories. It fosters community and is a simple way to create a sense of togetherness.
Much of my personal philosophy regarding food and young children comes from the book Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. In her book, Druckerman describes how cooking and baking with very young children teaches self-control. “With its orderly measuring and sequencing of ingredients, baking is a perfect lesson in patience” (pg. 64). She goes on to describe how typical French families bake together every weekend, and that by age three or four most children can make an entire cake independently. Below is a typical yogurt cake prepared in French households that I have made with preschoolers using minimal to no adult assistance!
There are additional reasons we incorporate cooking activities into our school day. Cooking and baking at home or in the classroom can teach important life skills, including:
Fine motor skills: Cooking tools from melon ballers to graters help kids strengthen their hand and fine motor muscles, as well as strengthen hand-eye coordination.
Delay of gratification: Cooking requires patience. Several steps are required before enjoying the results.
Scientific change: Water freezes and boils, jello hardens, solids are ground to a fine powder, cakes go from batter to baked. Mixing ingredients and watching their creations change states teaches kids basic principles of science.
Literacy: Your average recipe involves sequencing, identifying letters, and recognizing common ingredient words (butter, milk, flour).
Math: Cooking involves counting (one teaspoon, three tablespoons, stir twenty times), measuring by volume, identifying numbers, doing steps in an order, and other math concepts (half and whole).
Food history and making connections: Adults can use family recipes to talk about Grandma’s experience during the Depression, why we make things with apples in the fall, or to pass along family traditions. This aspect of cooking is especially near and dear to us at All Seasons, where we make as many intergenerational connections as possible with our seniors.
Sensory Experiences: Adults can encourage children to use expressive words to describe how something tastes, feels, smells, sounds, and looks.
Experimentation and creativity: Cooking allows kids to make decisions about their food, from adding an extra sprinkle to the top of a cupcake to stop stirring the muffin batter. It’s all about experimenting—learning what works and what doesn’t—a skill that will carry over into other areas of their lives.
Don’t be intimidated by cooking with preschoolers. They will love the attention and time spent together, regardless of the outcome. Even if a cooking or baking activity fails, or the kids just don’t like it, you did it together! It usually creates wonderful learning opportunities and memories none-the-less!
French Yogurt Cake
2- 6 oz containers plain or whole milk yogurt (use the empty containers to measure all the other ingredients) **
2 eggs or egg substitute
1 container sugar (or 2 if you’d like a sweeter cake)
1 tsp vanilla
Just under 1 container vegetable oil
4 containers flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 375. Use vegetable oil to grease a loaf pan or 9in round pan. Gently combine yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla and oil. Have children crack eggs into a separate bowl first in case egg shell remnants need to be removed. Add eggs to main bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mix gently until ingredients are just combined. Add 2 containers of frozen berries, or 1 container of chocolate chips, or any flavoring you like (1 tsp. almond extract and extra sliced almonds on top is a favorite of mine!) Bake for 35 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test. Let it cool.
**note, if you use vanilla yogurt, omit vanilla from recipe. Recipe works with coconut yogurt, but not soy yogurt