“Mom, I’m huuuuungry,”comes the cry just as you sit down for the first time today. Isn’t it amazing how kids have a pre-installed radar to know the exact moment when a parent is about to relax? Well, fear no more. With some planning and training, your elementary age child will be able to whip up a few of their favorite foods on their own. “But why would I want to risk them burning something or making a mess in the kitchen?” you ask. Valid question. But the benefits of kids who are on the path to kitchen independence override the challenges. When children learn how to cook, they develop a skill that lends self-confidence and pride. A New York Times article suggests that children who are more involved with their food choices and preparation are more likely to try new foods. In addition, they also agree that teaching your child to cook allows a great opportunity for parent/child bonding time and for them to develop the executive functions of following step by step directions and creative problem solving.
So where to start? For children age eight or older who are having a first foray into the kitchen, you may have a few levels to go through to build their confidence (and yours) for this new skill. A frozen toaster oven pizza might be a great first step. Take your child with you to the store and let him pick out a frozen pizza that will fit in the toaster oven (or the regular oven if you are ready). When you get home, go over the directions, letting him read them aloud and tell you what he thinks each step means. Allow him to turn on the oven, set a timer, and wait. Then sit back as he enjoys his self-made snack.
Step two can be as simple as mac and cheese. Following the pattern above, let your daughter choose the variety of pasta she wants from the store. This is a good chance to talk about nutrition and how your family chooses food items. Words like “gluten-fee,” “fat-free,” “vegan,” and “organic” can provide some interesting conversations and help you share your family values regarding health and nutrition with your youngster. Wildtree, founded by a busy mom, provides affordable mealtime solutions and has a Kids Mac and Cheez that is super simple and fun and a pantry staple. Allowing a child to boil water can be scary for a parent, so make ensure you discuss whether or not an adult needs to be in the room for this. Show how to choose the right size pot, how high to fill it, and how you can’t leave the room while cooking. Now might be a good time to reach the meaning of the saying “A watched pot never boils.” Teaching how to measure and mix together the other ingredients builds confidence. Measuring and reading labels also offers opportunities to practice literacy and math skills- great bonus! Practice makes this process easy for your child. It also builds the parent’s confidence to allow less and less supervision and more and more variety in recipes as your child proves competence.
In any cooking adventure, cleaning up is the cherry on top. Showing your daughter the steps to properly clean up after herself will set the standard for how you want the kitchen to look when she is finished. Spending time with your child teaching these skills is a great way to model your family values and have fun together. If you continue to encourage learning new recipes and new skills, your budding chef will soon be able to not only feed himself, but also the whole family.