Make Cooking Fun for Your Kids
"Not now, honey, Mommy's cooking dinner." If I had a dime for every time I said that! Parents are always looking for ways to spend quality time with their kids, yet often overlook one of the best places to do just that -- the kitchen! By getting your kids in the kitchen and cooking with you, you'll not only be spending some quality time together, you'll also be teaching and reinforcing basic skills.
Have your child help you select the recipe, then sit down together and review it. Children should be read to everyday, and it doesn't matter what the reading material is. Point out the ingredients as you read them. Have your child point out letters that are familiar to them or have them try to sound out the words.
After reading over the recipe, ask them to repeat back some, or all, of the ingredients. Ask them what you should do first to start preparing the recipe. This not only helps with their listening skills, but will stimulate conversation between you and your child.
Cooking is also a great way to introduce new things or teach facts about familiar things to your child. Does she know how apples are made into applesauce? What makes a cake rise? Why some foods need to be refrigerated and some don't? The kitchen is a wonderful classroom to introduce all sorts of information to your child!
Preschool-age children are learning about shapes and colors, their five senses, how to count and much, much more. What color is a carrot? How many eggs are in a dozen? If the recipe calls for half a cup of grated cheese, let them fill the cup full so they get an idea of how much is in a half a cup. What shape is an orange? Give them an object and have them smell and feel it with their eyes closed. Can they tell what it is?
Motor skills can also be worked on and improved through simple kitchen tasks. Cutting with a cookie cutter, spreading butter or jelly on a piece of bread and pouring ingredients into a measuring cup or bowl will help them fine-tune their motor skills. Peeling an egg, mashing a potato or shelling peas will help your child practice working with her hands in a controlled way. Children are also great at sorting, dumping and mixing ingredients.
Get creative when cooking with your child. Offer her different garnishes for the dessert and let her go wild! Let her choose the toppings for a homemade pizza and top it anyway she wants to. A smiley face pizza, anyone? Ask her if there's something she could add to a recipe to make it better. Would a little cinnamon be good in this cake? How about adding some raisins or dates? The possibilities are endless when cooking -- let your child know that and have fun with it.
The kitchen is a wonderful place to introduce, or reinforce, safety rules. Show him how to turn the handles of a pot towards to back of the stove so the pot won't be accidentally knocked down. Show him how to use oven mitts to protect his hands. Does your child know the dangers of water and electricity? Teach him! Though some children are not old enough to actually use a knife, they are old enough to start learning about them.
Kids hear, "Wash your hands!" all the time, but this rule is really important when cooking. Tell him why he must wash his hands before cooking. Teach him the proper way to wash his hands. Explain to him why hair should be pulled back so it does not get into the food he is preparing. Issues such as food poisoning and proper food handling can also be introduced. Don't overwhelm the child, but let him know that keeping himself and the kitchen clean is an important responsibility.
Helping create a wonderful meal can make a child feel wonderful about herself. When your child tells the whole family, "Look what I made!" she is proud. She has accomplished something -- something she can share with the whole family. The "oohs" and "ahhs" from the family as they eat the wonderful creation is a great self-esteem builder. You know how you feel when someone loves a dish you've made!
Children are more likely to eat a nutritious meal if they've had a hand in making it. Get kids familiar with healthy foods early. Show them how to wash the vegetables with a vegetable brush. Teach them how to peel an orange or pit an avocado. Some kids won't try new foods only because they have never been introduced to them. Try new things! How about a jicama? Maybe a mango or spaghetti squash? Everything is new to a young child. Don't just stop at the ordinary vegetables and fruits -- let them try everything once, even if you don't like it!
The next time you're running around the kitchen trying to get dinner ready in record time, stop. Go get your son or daughter and make it an evening neither one of you will forget.