One of the greatest skills you can give your children is the ability to cook. Kids who help out in the kitchen grow up confident in their ability to prepare their own meals. As a result, they're likely to be healthier than their peers, and they won't have to try to figure out how to graduate out of ramen noodles some day down the road. Here are a few tips that can help you get your kids involved in the kitchen:
1. Think in Stages
Even if your children are little, they're likely more capable in the kitchen than you'd think. Even a child as young as 2 years old can help out while you're cooking. For example, toddlers can rinse fruits and vegetables. Set your colander up in the sink and run the water. Help your little ones reach the sink with a nonslip step stool, and let them get your produce nice and clean.
As kids get older, you can teach them other kitchen tasks – for example, a 3-year-old can help knead dough, and a 5-year-old can help you use your Measure-All Cups. These ages aren't exact – some toddlers may be ahead of the game, and some preschoolers may need to work on their rinsing – so base the stages on your children's skill and maturity levels.
2. Encourage Creativity
One of the most exciting parts of cooking is getting to try things out and discover new recipes, and the odds are good your children will have plenty of ideas for how to do this. Ask your kids if they have any ideas for how to modify their favorite recipes. Some of them might seem like a stretch to you, but unless they're outright dangerous, give them a shot. For example, you might be pretty sure gummy worms have no place in macaroni and cheese, but your kids might be onto something special. Even if their ideas don't work out, your children will still have learned something about how cooking works and which flavors don't work together.
3. Instill Good Habits
When you let your kids help you out in the kitchen, you're obviously teaching them valuable life skills. However, baking a cake or frying the perfect eggs aren't the only lessons you can give your children in the kitchen. You can also use cooking as an opportunity to teach your kids about everything from tidying up after themselves to chemistry. When you're working with your kids in the kitchen, clean up as you go along. This will help your children think of clearing counters and dishes as a part of the cooking process, and save them (and you) a lot of work once the meal is finished.
That said, it would be wise to resign yourself to a little extra mess from the start. Even at their best, kids tend to spill more than their grown-up counterparts. Keep that in mind early on, and you'll be less stressed out when you need to clean up puddles you wouldn't have made on your own.
4. Make It a Learning Opportunity
You can also do simple science experiments with your children in the kitchen. One of the easiest (and tastiest) experiments out there is homemade rock candy. To make this yourself, start by boiling 2 cups of water, then stirring in 4 cups of sugar until it's completely dissolved. The mixture should be clear. Use a water bath to slightly warm a glass jar (you can also do this by setting your dishwasher to its "plate warmer setting"), then carefully pour the mixture into the jar. Dip a weighted string into the mixture, then set the string on a piece of wax paper to dry completely. After 24 hours, re-insert the weighted string into the sugar solution, and tie the undipped end to a pencil. Use the pencil to suspend the string in the mixture, and let it sit for at least one week.
Each day, help your children observe what's happening to the string. Have them jot down notes in a notebook, and ask them what they think it will look like at the end. As the week goes on, the sugar crystals in the mixture will adhere themselves to the microscopic crystals that formed when you first dipped in the string. More and more crystals will attach themselves, and by the end of the seven days, you'll have your very own string of rock candy!
5. Embrace Passion
"You might just be raising the next great chef."
You already know cooking is fun, and there's a good chance your children are going to agree with you. Cooking alongside Mom or Dad in the kitchen can be the start of something great – you might just have the next great chef in your household this very minute. Even if your kids don't grow up to be the next Julia Child, however, recognizing and embracing any passion they do discover for cooking early on can give them a strong foundation for the rest of their lives. People who cook their own food tend to be healthier and more able to save money down the road. By encouraging your kids' excitement for making their own meals, you're helping to ensure that they'll do well later on.
You can also use excitement for cooking to help your children develop their reading skills. Get them some age-appropriate cook books they can look through, and have them pick out recipes they'd like to try. The trick here is having them lead you through the process – stay there to help them with words when they need you to, but otherwise, let them tell you how to do it. This way, not only will you get to try recipes your kids are excited about, but you'll also build your children's confidence and leadership skills.