Cooking With Kids: Getting Them Involved
There are lots of reasons why parents should cook with kids. First of all, it's fun! If you can get over the fact that half the flour in the cookie recipe will end up on the floor, cooking with kids is often as enjoyable for parents as it is for kids. It's also educational. Getting children involved in preparing food teaches them math skills, reading skills, safety, and creativity, in addition to helping them learn responsibility and awareness about the natural world. Plus, if you want your kids to know how to prepare dinner for the whole family when they're teenagers, cooking with them while they're little will have such later paybacks.
To start cooking with a child of any age, a trip to the bookstore or library is a good idea. There you can buy or borrow one of the many wonderful recipe books, like Michah Pulleyn and Sarah Bracken's Kids in the Kitchen: 100 Delicious, Fun and Healthy Recipes to Cook and Bake (Add a wooden spatula, measuring cup, and mixing bowl to a recipe book and you've got a perfect birthday present for any school-aged child.)
You can get your younger child involved with what you're cooking at dinnertime by giving him simple tasks that he can accomplish, like the following.
- Cutting butter with a dull knife
- Pouring flour and other ingredients from the measuring cup into the bowl
- Stirring (and licking the batter, unless it contains raw eggs in which case do not let your child eat it)
- Cracking eggs (some parents don't like to let kids do this but the inevitable shell is easy to fish out and egg cracking is a great job for a child of any age)
Older children can help choose recipes and follow them (with some supervision), and set the table. Encourage your child to add something special like a vase of cut flowers or fancily folded cloth napkins. All kids should participate in cleanup. A child-sized broom, spray bottle with vinegar and water or another nontoxic cleaning product, and some lively kids' music makes cleanup more fun.
You can also do special cooking projects with your child. Baking whole wheat bread (and letting them shape the dough), making whole grain biscuits, and homemade pizzas are three surefire family activities that will keep children occupied for a long time. Here's our favorite kid-friendly recipe, which can be served with any meal.
Yummy Yogurt Biscuits
- 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or replace up to 1/2 cup with garbanzo bean flour, barley flour, oat flour, spelt flour, or some combo)
- 1 teaspoon salt (optional)
- 2 teaspoons non-aluminum baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3-5 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks (you can use less but more is yummier)
- 7/8 cup plain organic yogurt
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Mix together the dry ingredients. If you have a food processor, pulse once, and then add the butter. If you do it by hand with a pastry cutter, work the butter into the dry ingredients until you have a crumbly mixture. If you don't have a pastry cutter, use two forks in a crisscross motion.
- Stir the yogurt into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon, until it forms a ball. Knead the dough about 10 times on a lightly floured work surface. It may be a little sticky.
- Flatten the dough with your hands or a floured rolling pin until it is less than 1/2-inch thick. Dough may be a little sticky, which is fine. Try not to overwork it. Your kids can use cookie cutters to make the dough into pleasing shapes or freeform it as their imagination dictates.
- Decorate the biscuits with chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, raisins, dried cranberries, cinnamon, or anything else your kids might like.
- Bake the biscuits for 7 to 9 minutes. They should be golden brown on top and slide easily off the tray.
Safety Notes for Cooking with Kids
- Rinse eggs before cracking them and don't let children eat batter with raw eggs to avoid salmonella poisoning.
- Children under 12 using the stove or oven should be supervised at all times.
- Point pot handles to the back of the stove so eager children don't knock over hot food.