The cooking adventures with my daughter Eva (now 4) started early. As an infant she would sit on my hip and help me cook. As I stirred and mixed I’d talk to her about the sweet smell of strawberries and the juiciness of a crisp apple (with a few “lectures” thrown in about the importance of eating leafy greens!). As she got older we’d go to the Farmer’s Market together to visit the “Pea Lady” and the “Tomato Man” making dinner later that afternoon with our new ingredients.
I’ve always felt that cooking alongside your kids is the ultimate opportunity to teach them about real food and the pleasures of eating. Giving toddlers the opportunity to crack eggs and peel carrots builds fine motor skills while using new words like simmer, dice, and drizzle enhances vocabulary. Following a recipe together teaches organization.
I promise, you can teach kids to cook even when you don’t have a lot of kitchen skills yourself. Take smalls steps. You don’t need to make Julia Child’s Coq au Vin right out of the gate. Start with scrambled eggs (cracking, whisking eggs), roasted carrots (peeling, seasoning), a smoothie (cutting up fruits, vegetables with a toddler knife before they go into the blender), or whatever recipe is in your wheelhouse. Above all, the most important thing is to play, laugh, and have fun together in the kitchen.
Here are a few ways to get kids cooking:
Designate A Cooking Chair
The “Cooking Chair” is quite simply a sturdy chair for your child to stand on in order to reach the kitchen counter. As you’re making a meal, let your child stir, measure, pour, mash, squeeze lemons, grind pepper, tear lettuce, crack eggs and whisk — whatever the recipe calls for. Under supervision, children can peel carrots and push the button on the food processor. Let them try a toddler knife to cut soft items like cheese, mushrooms, and avocados.
The Star Ingredient Game
At the grocery store have your child pick out a food (the star ingredient) they want to cook. For younger kids, I suggest limiting choices to fruits, vegetables, grains, or beans. Allow older kids to explore the entire store. In the past, my daughter has selected green cauliflower, purple carrots, trumpet mushrooms, celeriac, and red lentils. (Hint: take a photo of the sign at the grocery store to remember what the item called. Also, note that many bulk items have recipes on the bin label).
This past weekend Eva chose a kabocha squash as her star ingredient. Having never prepared this type of squash, I looked up a few recipes online and decided to roast it. I sliced it and she scooped out the seeds, added salt and pepper, and drizzled it with coconut oil before it went into the oven. I think because she took part in preparing it herself, she loved eating it with her dinner.
Read Cookbooks Together
Look through one of your cookbooks or read a cooking magazine together with your child. Or on your next library trip have your kid check out a cookbook that looks visually appealing to them (recipes using real food, low sugar preferred). Have your kid mark pages of photos of food that look yummy to them with a post-it. Choose one recipe, go shopping for the ingredients, and cook the dish together. I have made some very interesting dishes, some I would have never tried without Eva’s selection.
Please let me know of other ways you have gotten kids interested in cooking or if you have any questions about the above ideas.
In Good Health,