By, Tracy Riekenberg
At the time of this publication, we have all been home for at least four weeks, some of us five weeks or more! This Stay-Home order has no doubt left you stir-crazy (it has me!) with time to spare. This extra time at home is the perfect opportunity to dust off your Kitchenaid mixer and get cooking with your kids!
Children as young as 18 months can help you cook. The very young are great stirrers and taste-testers. With guidance they can help wash vegetables and measure ingredients. They can mash soft ingredients like bananas. When you’re done cooking, they can wash the plastic/non-breakable and non-harmful dishes such as measuring cups and spoons.
All Seasons students are experts at the basics of cooking. At school, we make everything from scrambled eggs to granola bars, muffins to smoothies. At preschool age, children are ready for more advanced tasks in cooking: measuring, stirring, scraping, cutting soft ingredients (using a safe knife), cracking eggs, kneading dough, rolling cookies or biscuits, spreading butter or jam, and more. When my own children were preschool age, we loved to bake cookies and muffins. Their favorite job (aside from licking the bowl!) was the scooping. Something about the cookie scoop was intriguing and fun to try.
Cooking together is, of course, a learning time for children. The youngest will learn language skills (what does “measure” mean, for example) and older children are working on math skills – more/less, fractions, time, and so on. But aside from “school readiness” learning, when children cook they are also developing motor skills. That cookie scoop? That helped my kids with their fine motor development in their hands, which in turn helped them be able to write when they started school. Measuring and pouring supports the development of children’s hand-eye coordination. Stirring a thick batter can help children with practicing something that is hard and not giving up.
In addition, research suggests that children who engage in the preparing of meals are more likely to try new foods and be adventurous eaters. A new recipe served to a 4-year old may be turned down, but the same recipe that child helped prepare may be devoured and asked for again!
What if you haven’t been cooking much with your kids? Where do you start?
I found baked goods the easiest thing to do with my kids when they were young. The ingredients are easy to measure (if messy) and there aren’t many sharp tools needed. The mixer was interesting to watch as it went ‘round and ‘round. And the results were delicious to try! Muffins, cookies, cakes – we made it all! The important thing is to find a recipe that you have all the ingredients for, is at a level at which you are comfortable helping your children, and that you are excited about. I’d also suggest keeping your expectations low. If the only thing your child does this time is measure one cup of flour, then that is a success! Small and gradual steps will build up their stamina and interest in cooking.
I’m no fool, though. I am not going to pretend that cooking with children is always an easy, mess-free, and lovely bonding experience. More times than not, when I cooked with my kids, we made a HUGE mess. I often felt like snatching the spoon out
of their hands because it would be faster if I just did it myself. And do not get me started about their whining about whose turn it was to do which task. UFF DA. But like most really meaningful parenting tasks, the long term results have been worth it.
My children are nine years old now. We have made cookies, muffins, scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers, tacos and pancakes together during this time away from school. In fact, today my daughter made the pancakes for lunch all by herself. She read the recipe, gathered the ingredients, made the batter, and cooked the pancakes with very little help from me. They were tasty – and I didn’t have to cook a meal!
Isn’t that the ultimate goal? Children of all ages who cook are learning life skills: reading a recipe, gathering ingredients, following directions, preparing a meal, cleaning up and taste-testing. They are learning to become self-sufficient humans who will thrive as they grow up. Who knows? Maybe someday when they are grown, they’ll invite you over for a delicious meal they prepared.