Learning how to cook is one of the most important life skills you can impart to your child. It’s not necessarily something they will learn at school. For the most part, cooking skills are learned at home and at relatives’ houses. Cooking is something they will keep learning and using all their lives. If the love of cooking is instilled in a child, they will always be excited to try new recipes and improvise dishes from leftover foods.
It’s especially important to teach cooking skills if we want our children to cook healthy meals and not have to rely solely on frozen prepared foods at the grocery store or foods from restaurants.
Right now you can offer them a great foundation in the kitchen. Create memories in your home kitchen that won’t fade away with time. Most of us have memories of a certain favorite dish from Mom, Dad, Grandma, or Grandpa. You can probably still remember its flavor and the delicious smell. By cooking with your child, you are creating these memories for them.
Let’s face it, children in the kitchen almost always means there will be a mess. With a little planning and preparation, you will minimize the frustration. You can start by teaching your child to clean up small messes and how to clean up if they spill something. Be patient with them while they’re still learning.
Children of all ages will need some level of supervision. Be available and make sure your child is safe.
Gear kitchen tasks to your child’s ability. Every child is different, and they will be better at some tasks than others. Be encouraging, be flexible, and remember that every mistake is a learning experience.
You can at least relax a bit by having a young child in a plant-based kitchen because you don’t have to worry about the dangers of raw eggs and meat.
Children love exploring textures. Allow your children to feel the different foods, such as when washing fruits and vegetables, rinsing grains, chopping cucumbers, peeling potatoes, or adding spinach leaves to a smoothie.
Children are often open to trying new foods when cooking. If you are cutting a cucumber, they might try a slice. The same is true for red bell pepper and zucchini. They will likely try foods while cooking that they would never touch if they were presented on their plate.
Your kitchen is a place of adventure and discovery. There is so much to learn and try. Children learn responsibility, they learn that they are needed to help the family, and it’s one of the best places for great conversations.
Children are often open to trying new foods when cooking. They will likely try foods while cooking that they would never touch if they were presented on their plate.
Your family time at the dinner table is a time of celebration. It’s the time of day when the entire family can be together and catch up on the events of the day, tell stories, laugh together, share dreams, and plan trips. Consider turning off all electronics so you can focus on food and conversation. Your children can even help set the table as nice and fancy as they would like it to be.
Share small bits of nutrition information when preparing food. As plant-based eaters, our children will eventually have to make their own food choices and defend them in front of other people. Sneak in digestible pieces of information about nutrition so they are well equipped as they get older.
Be prepared to answer questions when asked. These are teachable moments. For example, if we encounter oily food, I choose to say that this food will damage our endothelial cells, and all of our children know what that means. We’ve drawn diagrams and have discussed it multiple times to reinforce the information.
As you cook, make sure you answer all of their questions and explain what you are doing. For example, we add lemon to add a bit of a sour flavor to our hummus, or we add dates to smoothies to make them sweeter. We use cashews in Alfredo-style sauce to add creaminess. They will learn why you are doing things and will be able to create their own recipes with time. Have open communication.
The first lesson children should learn is that helping in the kitchen is a great responsibility and privilege. When cooking, they help create an amazing meal that everyone can share. It’s an experience that will be applied for life.
Emphasize the importance of clean hands and clean produce. Safety should always be a priority, so make kitchen rules very clear. Also, teaching your child to clean up in the kitchen is helpful in the long run.
The best approach to training children in the kitchen is to allow them to help whenever possible. That will look different depending on the age and strengths of each child. Encourage your child to be your apprentice.
Empower children by allowing them to make a recipe by themselves. This can range in complexity from throwing some fruit and plant milk into the blender to making something on the stove or baking. Check out the recipes you make frequently and see which ones you can delegate to your children.
Children love to pick recipes to help prepare, so be sure to give them the opportunity to pick the recipes. This teaches them they are needed and valued and that you care about their opinion. They are also more likely to eat it if they chose the recipe.
Teach your children to prepare all the ingredients before cooking and follow a recipe so they don’t miss anything. With time, they will learn how to substitute ingredients and create their own recipes.
Most importantly, focus on nourishing your relationship with your child. You will make great memories in the kitchen!
Copyright 2023 Center for Nutrition Studies. All rights reserved.