Seeing the children happily at work in our cooking class, we’re reminded of what a rich learning experience it is to work with food. Cooking brings together history and culture, hand skills and intellectual know-how, curiosity and creativity. Learning to create something delicious is a confidence boost and source of pride for children—and possibly the beginning of a lifelong passion. Below are some of the many benefits of sharing time in the kitchen with your children:
- Cooking encourages children to be open to and curious about new foods. Children love activities that engage all their senses, and preparing food is a rich sensory experience: they can enjoy the smell of basil and lemon, feel the texture of different cheeses sprinkled on a pizza, press cookie cutters into dough and listen to the whir of the mixer. These hands-on experiences help create positive associations with all kinds of food, even for children who are reluctant to taste something unfamiliar. Helping to peel carrots, snap string beans and tear lettuce for salad has made many a child more eager to eat their vegetables.
- Using the tools of a chef teaches coordination and fine motor skills. Scooping, pouring, measuring and mixing are great ways for children to learn the uses of tools and to practice moving with coordination and precision. It’s undeniably a bit messy to cook with children—but learning to clean up a mess is also a valuable skill, and one with lifelong benefits.
- Cooking is math and science in action! There are so many mathematical concepts involved in following a recipe: counting (add three eggs), number recognition (reading the increments on a measuring cup), visual estimation (dividing batter evenly into a muffin tin), multiplication (doubling a recipe) and understanding fractions. And the kitchen is also a mini science lab! Instigating simple chemical reactions—dissolving, crystallizing, making an emulsion—is part of the magic and fun of cooking. Observing how bread dough rises and milk ferments into yogurt is a lesson in microbiology. Cooking is also the perfect way to teach children how certain foods help us stay healthy, as well as why washing hands and practicing good hygiene around food is so important.
- Cooking is a language-rich activity. Sharing the kitchen with a child is an opportunity to talk about how food looks, feels and tastes and introduces children to words they may not often hear, like simmer, sift and baste. Recipes are a great format for practicing reading comprehension, and even a young child can help you “read” a cookbook by turning the pages. Importantly, cooking together is a chance to pass down family recipes and celebrate your cultural heritage. Preparing a meal together that evokes memories and stories is an opening to a meaningful family conversation.
- Cooking gives children an appreciation of the skills involved—and a sense of accomplishment as they master them. Without cooking themselves, children have very little idea of the process behind the food they are eating. Spending time together in the kitchen is an opportunity to let them know that their help is important, and to encourage and celebrate their work. Cooking also teaches children that they can create great things by breaking the process down into smaller, achievable steps. And with confidence in cooking comes the possibility for creative expression: you may one day get to enjoy a special salad or pasta à la mode du chef, served forth by a child with a beaming expression of pride.