We have all seen those photos of mother and child joyfully baking and bonding in the kitchen. The reality is often far less blissful. In fact, cooking with kids can be an absolute disaster if the expectations of your child’s abilities, attention and self-control are not realistic.
Despite the potential nightmare, cooking with kids introduces them to important lifelong food literacy skills, encourages a varied diet and eating habits conducive with positive health outcomes. (1) Children of any age can participate in cooking activities, from simply playing with pots and pan, and pretending to stir and pour, through to helping preparing the family dinner.
But remember, the kitchen can be a hazardous place and care should be taken. Some kitchen hazards are quiet obvious, like sharp knives and hot surfaces, while others are less visible, such as the risk of cross contamination and food poisoning from raw meat or eggs and unwashed surfaces. It is important to keep these hazards in mind and ensure cooking activities are appropriate to your child’s age and skill level.
Cooking with kids under 4 years
Under four years of age children can stir, masher, add ingredients, use cookie cutters and rolling pins, grate and peel with some assistance. They can also transfer mixture from a bowl to a baking dish, help count out ingredients and make simple choices, like banana or blueberry muffins. There little minds and hands do tend to wonder so it is a good idea to choose simple, quick recipes that they can eat straight away, such as Banana Bliss Balls.
This is the prefect age to introduce basic concepts like hygiene and food safety, like washing your hands, and fruits and vegetables (which kids love to do!). It is also the prime age for fussy eating. Encouraging their involvement and independence in the kitchen can assist overcome some of these issues and encourages them to try different foods.
Cooking with kids 5 years and older
Once basic cooking skills have been mastered, children can begin to complete tasks with less assistance. Although more competent and confident in the kitchen, mess is still inevitable. Try not to let it both your – ‘big’ kids can help clean up too!
Now that they are also going to school, they can contribute to packing their own lunchbox. Initially this might involve choosing a piece of fruit and getting a tub of yoghurt from fridge, but as they get older they can progress to make their own sandwich or baking muffins for morning tea as well.
Children 14 years and older
By this age kids they know it all (just ask them!), and it’s time to hone the culinary skills that will nourish them into their adult lives. They will be able to contribute regularly to family meals and should be encouraged to pack their own lunch independently. A stronger emphasis can be given to understanding portion sizes and eating a balanced diet – although it’s not likely to feature highly on their priority list.
Remember, we all have our strengths, and our weaknesses. Keep your expectations of your child appropriate to their age and skill level. You don’t need to be a master chef to be able to prepare healthy, delicious food, however enjoying your time in the kitchen will have a big impact on the effort given to nourishing your body, so have fun, make a mess, and enjoy the time with your children.
If you need a little inspiration to get your and your children started in the kitchen head over to The Kids Menu for a free e-book, 14 Healthy Kids Recipes.