This month, we’re celebrating Nutrition Month, and this year’s theme, “Unlock the Potential of Food.” Food offers so much, including the potential for us to discover new tastes, skills, and experiences, as well as the potential to bring us together.My daughter recently had her second birthday, and she’s already a budding chef! She will declare, “I want to cook,” and proceed to push a chair to the kitchen counter, ask for exactly two bowls, a big spoon, and “more spices please.” She then mixes things together, perhaps adds a little water, decants from one bowl to the other, and, yes, makes a bit of a mess.
At other times, she “helps” me with a recipe. She has stirred the dry ingredients together for apple crisp and has “beaten” eggs for homemade muffins. Of course, I help her to “help” me.
Why do I support these messy kitchen adventures? Is it because it keeps her happily occupied for a few minutes so I can get something else done? Well, yes…but I also have ulterior motives….
Children are exposed to the world of food through the role modeling, attitudes, and habits of their families, friends, caregivers, and educators. Cooking with kids can help to build a foundation for healthy relationships with food. How is this?
- “I want to cook!” Cooking together supports positive attitudes about food and eating. Food is a pleasure, and food preparation can be fun.
- “What’s dis, mama?” Food preparation activities help kids get familiar and comfortable with a greater variety of foods. And this, in turn, helps them to (eventually) enjoy a variety of food.
- “Me cook!” Cooking teaches food skills. At this age, cooking with kids helps to normalize the fact that we can make tasty dishes from simple ingredients. This builds their confidence that they will eventually be able to do this too.
The child feels independent and it’s kind of a milestone…They think: OK, if I can do this, if I can just mix this, then I can do that too. It’s baby steps towards bigger things.”
Cooking with kids helps to build their lifelong relationship with food, and it’s also important in the “here and now.” Time in the kitchen is quality time, a way to connect, an investment in adult-child relationships. And cooking together is not only fun for the kids - it’s rewarding for adults too:
It’s something we can do together; they get excited about it and it makes me feel good.”
What opportunity do you have to cook with kids? Wondering where to start? Consider taking a peek at our Cooking with Kids poster to see what children of various ages are capable of doing in the kitchen. You might also enjoy kids’ cooking videos from the annual “Hands-On Cook-Off contest” (or consider submitting a video yourself!).
(*Quotes from “A Hands on Approach to Family, Food and Fun”.)