Friday, March 23, 2012

Cooking with kids

We're off the the neighbors for dinner, so I thought I might share with you an old post from the archives. My best mate had a great childhood development blog for a while and asked me to write some content. This was my first effort...

Imagine if someone told you there was a magic pill to help develop your kid’s numeracy, literacy and common sense, encourage her to eat her vegies, and give her a sense of achievement all while having quality fun. You’d want to know where to buy it, right? The answer? Your supermarket!

Ok, so it’s technically not a pill, more like a basket full of groceries. I’m here to encourage you to cook with your children.

By 15 months she already knew cookies taste better as dough

Before you call me mad, and ask if I understand just *how* much mess your little one can make with cake mix, hear me out.

For starters, it is a great way to spend quality one on one time. Waiting for the pot to boil or the scones to cook is a great time to chat. It also encourages patience (yours and theirs!)

Cooking together cultivates healthy eating habits. I have found my daughter eats more vegetables pilfered raw off the bench than she ever has from her plate, and I use this to introduce her to new flavours and ingredients that she would be dubious about if they were served up unannounced. She is also more likely to eat what she has helped prepare.

Cooking provides a vehicle to teach your children about food provenance. I want my daughter to understand the linkage between the chicken on Old McDonald’s Farm and the drumstick on her plate. We have also started a small vegie patch in the backyard as a practical demonstration.

I am sure you all have an anecdote of your kids learning something amazingly quickly if they realise it will be useful. (Personally, my daughter could pronounce ‘chocolate’ long before her own name.) I have found cooking is helpful in demonstrating the importance of numeracy to my toddler, for both measured quantities and simple things like counting the number of eggs to add. I know that in the future it will also show the importance of literacy – nothing like getting the sugar and salt mixed up to drive home the message! For the older child, it is a practical lesson in following instructions and processes.

Sugar or salt?

Children who are genuinely helpful are usually proud to be of assistance, and I love seeing the delight on my daughter’s face when she is complemented on her kitchen skills. Cooking is a skill set for life, but in the short term it also provides a child a positive role to fulfil within the family. My daughter is only 2 years and three months old, but I can honestly say that she is a real asset when I am preparing food. She has become a competent assistant, and I look forward to her developing further skills as she grows. I know when it comes time for her to prepare her own food, she will have a solid grounding in the basic skills and nutrition required to remain healthy and independent.

As my daughter and I both enjoy cooking together, we started to look for excuses to cook. An unexpected by product of this has been a budding sense of altruism. She will happily give her cooking away to someone who might need it. (After a sizeable taste test, of course!) It could be to anyone from dinner for a bereaved neighbour, to morning tea for a friend, but it is teaching her that her actions can help her community, and that even on a small scale she has the power to create change.

Now, isn’t that list of positives worth cleaning up the occasional inevitable cake mix explosion?

Before you get all fired up and rush into the kitchen, a couple of warnings:

Please cook to your child’s capability, not above it. Adult supervision and assistance is critical when using heat and sharp implements.

While it is great to encourage your child to taste the various raw ingredients and mixes as you cook, please be mindful. For example, raw chicken is not a safe ingredient if your little one still whacks everything they touch in their mouth.

Be aware that your little learners may attempt to replicate cooking on their own time. A friend of mine came in to the kitchen to make her 2 year old son a hot drink, only to realise he’d already boiled the kettle!


  1. Cooking today ended in grumpy mummy...flour from one end of the bench to the other all over my clean dishes....which I had just taken a loooong time to wash...( there was a backlog) I feel bad....cos I got cross...but tomorrow is another day. There will be more things to cook tomorrow.....and I didnt stay cross for long, we did eat the choc chip cookie dough together.. :)
    Great post...makes me feel better for my stay at home clean up day today.....all we did together was the cooking and a bit of painting in the kitchen while I washed dishes...but youre right, they are learning all the time, and doing it 'together' is the best bit.

  2. We have stay at home clean up day every wednesday! It's scheduled in. We might have a little friend over for a play in the afternoon, but that's it. Otherwise it all gets on top of me and I end up feeling generally disheveled.

  3. Boo has just discovered his love for cooking.

    Alas he IS a teenage boy after all and prefers things like Tacos and frozen pizza.

    But my girls used to love helping with biscuits and cakes and the like when they were little