Camp Caribu, Family

Cooking With Kids: Life Lessons Abound In The Kitchen

Are your kids or grandkids looking for things to do this summer? Besides being a fun project, encouraging kids to prepare and/or cook food can be a great opportunity to teach them life skills such as kitchen and food safety, tips about nutrition/health, hygiene, and even math. It can also give kids a sense of value, accomplishment, and maturity as they enjoy the reward of eating the delicious finished product. Over time as their skills improve, they might even be timesavers for you in making food for the family.

Time in the kitchen is not just for older kids. Toddlers and preschoolers are usually very eager to help. The extent of help, the tools/equipment used, and the concerns about personal safety are dependent upon the age, maturity, and previous kitchen experience of the child. Supervision is obviously required with younger, less experienced kids, but even with teens, it can’t hurt for the adult to make sure safety precautions are taken especially around knife use and the stove/oven.

Cooking With Little Chefs

The youngest children can enjoy gathering and holding ingredients to be used. They can assist with measuring, pouring, stirring, portioning, shaping, or pushing buttons on the blender, mixer, or food processor. They can also help to rinse off fruits and vegetables before use. Older children might like feeling more grown up helping the younger ones with these activities.

Make sure that work surfaces are at an appropriate height for the size of the child. If a stool or chair is warranted, make sure it is sturdy and not a high risk for falls. This is of special concern around the stovetop and when using knives.

Opportunities For Learning

Emphasize reading a recipe before you begin. Gathering the ingredients for a recipe provides an opportunity to discuss what is going into the food and why. For instance, what does the baking powder do? What other ingredients can make food rise (baking soda, yeast, eggs, etc.)?

Explaining measuring devices is another place for education and can be a chance to practice math skills. How do the numbers on a recipe relate to the measuring spoons and cups? For older children, you can challenge them to figure out math problems such as how much of each ingredient you would need if you doubled the recipe.

It is also a perfect time to discuss nutrition. Ideally, choose recipes that are healthy or can be modified to make them healthier. Discuss which of the ingredients fit into one of the healthy food groups? Which ingredients do not provide nutrition and/or should be more limited (butter, sugar, processed meats, etc.)? How can the recipe be changed to make it healthier (like using whole grains instead of refined, adding more veggies, reducing the amount of sugar, using lower fat dairy ingredients, adding some fruit/nuts, etc.)?

Safety And Hygiene

For all ages, there are some basics that need to be discussed before starting a food-related project. The importance of clean hands is the first rule. Washing hands is not only important before starting, but also at times during food prep, especially if handling raw eggs or raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Rules should be established about tasting recipes containing these (such as quick bread or pancake batter) as well. Establish the habit of them cleaning the work surface frequently and helping with clean-up after the cooking project.

Knife safety is another important subject to discuss and periodically review. There are some great videos online that teach kids how to use knives safely (which are even good reviews for adults). Younger children or those with less kitchen experience can use blunt knives to cut soft foods or you can purchase some sturdy serrated plastic knives. Knife guards are also available that are held with the non-dominant hand to safely secure food while cutting. Children should be reminded never to put a sharp knife in the soapy water used for washing, as it can be dangerous.

Safety around the use of the stove and oven is another important discussion. Keep oven mitts visible as a reminder to use them. Emphasize turning off these appliances as soon as they are done using them.

Kid-Friendly Recipes

The recipes you choose to have the children make should be appropriate for the age and experience of the child. Let’s look at some kid-friendly recipe ideas. Baked goods are always a hit – quick breads, muffins, scones, pancake/waffle batter, soft pretzels or other yeast breads/rolls.

One-dish meals might include soups, stews, chili, a veggie pizza on whole grain dough, a stir fry, pasta dishes like lasagna or stuffed shells, egg dishes like scrambled eggs, omelets, or a crust-less quiche. How about burritos, tacos, or quesadillas? Kids have fun shaping foods like meatballs or turkey burgers. They might enjoy mashing up ingredients for guacamole or hummus to eat with raw veggies. Kale chips are another easy recipe that can encourage veggie intake.

Children of all ages can help put together sandwiches, pita pockets, or wraps. Young children like using cookie cutters to turn their sandwiches into fun shapes. Cookie cutters can also be used to make “egg in a hole” – cut a shape in the middle of a slice of bread, lay the bread in an oiled or non-stick pan, crack a whole or scrambled egg into the opening, and cook on both sides until the egg is cooked through.

Making the ingredients for and rolling up California rolls can be great fun. Kids also love to create their own special formula for a smoothie in the blender. Have them make granola or a personalized healthy trail mix. These can be layered in a yogurt and fruit parfait as a healthy dessert.

So, find opportunities to get the kids you know into the kitchen. It can provide a fun project, as well as a chance to teach them some great life skills and nutrition tips while sharing quality time together!

Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a registered, licensed dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, ME and Portsmouth, NH. She has also been the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy, presents workshops nationally, and provides guidance in sports nutrition.

Looking for more recipes for kids? Download the Caribu app to find dozens of kid-friendly cookbooks, and prepare some meals together in a virtual playdate! You can also take a look at all of the ‘Fun With Food’ books in this week’s #CampCaribu selection. Connect with the kids in your family on a Caribu Video-Call, and enjoy reading and cooking together.

You can read the original article on Fosters.

Pam Stuppy, Cooking With Kids: Life Lessons Abound In The Kitchen, July 15, 2020,