The busyness of the holidays can interfere with family time, OR it can be a great time to include your children in the process of holiday preparations like cooking. We asked Mark Connor of DriveSafely.Info to share his tips for teaching your child to cook.
In generations past, cooking wasn’t just a hobby. Before there were restaurants on every corner, preparing your own food was a skill necessary for survival. Shucking the corn, snapping the peas and boiling the potatoes were often jobs for the children in the house. From the time they could walk, every family member played a role in gathering, preparing and serving every meal.
Times have changed. Today, it is entirely possible to avoid learning to cook well into adulthood. Even with the rise of cook-it-yourself meal delivery services that ship complete, ready-to-make meals, including fresh ingredients and instructions, to your door, we are spending less and less time in the kitchen. In fact, the home-cooked meal itself is dying a “slow death,” according to the Washington Post.
The point is, if we learn to cook at all these days, it’s because we want to, not because we have to. And even though cooking is a skill that we can (arguably) get by without, there are a lot of advantages to teaching our children how to simmer, saute and season. Making beautiful, delicious food is both an art and a science. It teaches patience, strengthens math skills and provides a creative outlet. That said, cooking with children requires some special considerations. Here’s what you need to know:
As long as your child is properly supervised, cooking is not a dangerous activity. Still, accidents happen, and there are some precautions you should take to protect your child and your home. Start by laying down some ground rules. Ensure your child understands they are not to use the stove, oven or grill without your help. Based on their age, show them which utensils are acceptable and which they should let alone. Then, teach them the basics of food safety. Frequent hand washing, knowledge of foodborne diseases and use of protective gear like oven mitts will keep them safe as they learn. Finally, ensure your home is protected in the event of a kitchen fire. Check smoke detectors, keep a fire extinguisher on hand and discuss a fire-escape plan with your child
The Right Tools
While you may be tempted to order that 110-piece, child-friendly cooking set off Amazon complete with tiny pots, pans, and utensils, you don’t really need it. As long as you keep everything in good working order, your existing cookware and utensils will work just fine for the most part. There are a few items, however, that will make cooking easier and safer for your little one. Invest in a child-sized oven mitt, and check to ensure it fits snugly and allows your child full use of his or her fingers to prevent dropping. Additionally, children should always use a mitt on both hands, as they tend to need a second hand for support.
A timer like (you guessed it!) Time Timer® or the Time Timer App can be helpful for young children who want to do it all themselves. As an added bonus, using a visual timer can help children learn how long five minutes really is, reinforcing the concept of time management.
The new 20-minute Time Timer is perfect for cooking: It’s sturdy, easy to clean, and it’s easy to visualize smaller amounts of time like you would use in the kitchen, so that you or your child can easily measure how many minutes to stir the cake batter or how long the pasta should boil.
Make it Fun
I think we’ve established that, in this case, learning to cook isn’t a matter of life and death. It’s supposed to be fun, which is helpful to remember about the time you pull that first batch of blackened cookies out of the oven. One tip to ensuring it’s an enjoyable bonding experience for both you and your little chef is to start slow. Ease children into the cooking process by letting them help mix batter, boil water, and wash dishes. Even these seemingly mundane tasks are exciting for a first timer. Beyond that, check your perfectionism at the (oven) door. Otherwise, your sanity will definitely suffer. Those cupcakes might not look like Martha Stewart’s, but the sense of accomplishment your child will feel after icing them all by herself will more than make up for any lack of presentation points.
So, there you have it. Helping your children learn to cook really isn’t all that difficult, and it’s well worth it. In addition to making messes, you’ll be creating lifelong memories. And who knows? Maybe your child could be the next Master Chef!