Getting in the kitchen with your children empowers your kids to make healthy food choices through hands-on learning. Your kids will learn about recipe ingredients, what food combinations they like and what tastes they don’t like. Cooking together will allow you to enjoy a healthy, loving, bonding experience that can be done any time of year in the comfort of your own home. The extra perk of this practice is that you’ll have time to teach your kids real-life, practical applications of some of their lessons from school.
Here are 10 ways to connect your child's education to practical fun in your own kitchen.
1. World History
Kitchen time can be used to teach your little student about historical uses of certain ingredients. You’ll also be able to discuss different cultures by trying various spices, and unique cuisines they may have only tried when eating out.
Lesson idea: Pick one item that you’re using and have your child research it. For example have your child research the history of a spice and have them share their findings while making a special dish with that spice. For younger kids research it for them and read them your findings. Every single ingredient has a history.
2. Reading and Writing
From reading ingredient packaging, to recipe instructions, if you’re going to cook you will definitely end up reading and likely you’ll read aloud. You’ll also end up writing if you’re coming up with a recipe from scratch and need to jot it down on a recipe card.
Lesson idea: Pick a recipe out of a book and have your child help you vary the recipe. Read it aloud, replace the ingredients with your favorites and write a new recipe card. A full recipe card requires ingredients, directions and maybe a fun story your little one wants to share. Once you’ve collected a few recipes you can turn the collection into an easy print book and offer the collection of new recipes as a gift to your friends and family. Many stores and online sources have recipe book templates and this can be a fun project for both of you. Cookbooks are also great fundraising tools for schools and can be a part of your volunteer time with other parents.
Kids that know how to cook their own foods resist the urge to eat convenient junk food or dine out at fast food restaurants. Teaching your children about nutrition is an easy application in the kitchen by swapping unhealthy ingredients for healthier options. You can also discuss how to make a balanced meal so they’re getting a little bit from each food group as well as noting the importance of introducing functional foods like fermented foods.
Lesson idea: Take a kid favorite recipe and unjunk it. Make a healthy version of a family favorite. Swapping things like Himalayan cooking salts for iodized table salt or replacing white sugar for a healthier alternative are just two examples of how to easy it is to unjunk a recipe. The most important part of the food nutrition lesson is to have your student note how they feel after they’ve eaten foods that are both good and bad for them. Have them track both scenarios and remind them that they have a choice to eat foods that help them feel good or feel bad.
4. Organizing and Building
There’s nothing like a live game of Tetris, also known as filling the dishwasher or finding out how to put a blender or mixer back together after cleaning it. Legos and Minecraft don’t have anything on your kitchen activities. Most complex recipes also have step-by-step instructions and some require prep work and a building process. Have your little one map out the process with you and teach them how to organize so they can build their masterpieces.
Lesson idea: Kids love baking so pick an item that has many steps and requires organization. Then have your child organize it based on those steps. Have them also plan the clean up and put the project on a timeline. Have them map out how they will finish all of the steps and cleanup in the allotted time. Younger ones can help build same sized cookie scoops and organize the same amount of raisins or chocolate chips in each cookie.
Try This Recipe: Made by Me: Delicious Wheat-free Waffle Recipe
Even math becomes a necessary tool when you have to measure out those ingredients or double a recipe. Fractions anyone? The measuring spoons, cups and quarts can be challenging if a recipe calls for something that you don’t have a guide for. Help your child memorize cups and teaspoons so they can easily adjust, double or triple a recipe.
Lesson idea: Pick a serving size for a recipe that requires your little one to either cut in half, double, or triple. Be sure to find one that incorporates teaspoons, cups, handfuls and other challenging measurements to navigate. For little ones you can have them help you count scoops, cups, or tablespoons out loud. You can also have them do simple addition and subtraction for less complex recipes. Verbal word problems are a great lesson when working on complex recipes and determining the final ingredients using math. This may be just the refresher you need as an adult. I know I did!
6. Confidence and Independence
When you teach kids how to make their own food, you’re instilling independence and confidence in a skill set they can use their whole life. They can use this skill for professional uses such as restaurant work as a teen or young adult or who knows they could even turn into the next Top Chef. The more practice they get in the kitchen the more they will connect with their food and set a high standard for food choices. There’s a lot of independence in being able to make food you like to eat rather than relying on a family member or restaurant to satisfy their palettes.
Lesson idea: Make a goal to teach your child five things they like to eat and have them make those dishes a few times over the course of a few weeks. Take note of their proud demeanor. Confidence in all things comes from repetitive practice and your young one will soon be independently beaming with proud joy over their kitchen skills. Be prepared to taste their creations when they are undercooked or even burned to the crisp and encourage them to find their errors and keep trying.
7. Safety and Focus
Kids in the kitchen have to be aware of their surroundings so it requires them to be in the moment, focus and pay attention to safety practices. Turning on a gas range for example requires them to understand and respect the open flame and the flow of gas. Teach them safety tips and focusing tactics around the hot stove, sharp knives, blender blades, hot spices and flames.
Lesson idea: Have them make a safety code for the kitchen for the refrigerator. Laminate their ideas so they can use it as a checklist for their kitchen adventures. Have them come up with a kitchen mantra so they can apply their focus in a fun way and repeat it when they feel distracted. An example of a kitchen mantra for your kid would be: “I’m happy to be in the kitchen and excited about creating this delicious recipe.” This mantra can go on top of the checklist so if they forget it they can use their safety code as a set point.
Try This Recipe: Made by Me: Roasted Cauliflower Recipe
By teaching your kids about good food, cooking instead of ordering out, and using great ingredients, you’re setting up a healthy food future for your child and for all of us. Who knows they may make a career out of their kitchen knowledge such as a food blogger, author, nutritionist, chef, or educator. At any rate, they will know how to cook a few other things besides Top Ramen when they go away to college. Either way your gift to them is unjunking their diets.
Lesson idea: Start the unjunking process by finding a recipe that requires some swapping for a healthier option. Then generate a list for those healthier ingredients. Go to the store and have them read food labels with you. Teach them what the labels mean for example what does organic, non-GMO verified, fat-free, sugar-free, low-calorie and gluten-free mean to your recipe. Can you make the recipe you want healthy and yummy?
Maybe your creative genius likes to mold mashed potatoes or make log cabins out of carrot sticks. Cooking is an art and much of the design work comes when you display your creations for your guests.
Lesson Idea: Teach your little one how to prepare a beautiful plate of food using inspiration from your favorite restaurants or cooking shows. Play with sauces and garnishes. Then have them set the table in the most artistic way they choose. Show them their options of silverware, serving dishes, vases, runners, napkins and stemware. Allow them to choose all the combinations and be prepared to say yes to all the fancy stuff that’s collecting dust in your china cabinet.
Don’t forget what is arguably the least fun part of cooking in the kitchen – cleaning. Cleanup requires taking responsibility of the disaster they have on their hands after they’ve made that special treat.
Lesson Idea: Take time to show your little chef how to properly clean the kitchen from the dishes, to the floors, to properly closing the ingredient jars. This lesson will also allow them to become big helpers in the kitchen. As your child grows up add the appropriate task so they understand the responsibility of messing up the kitchen requires cleaning it up too.
Take these lessons a step further by growing some organic ingredients for your recipes. Read our articles on starting your own organic garden and get your kids active with you in the garden too!
Are you up for teaching your kids some lessons? Did we leave out some important lessons? Do you have some ideas you want to share with Naturally Savvy? If so, please leave them in the comments section below.