Start Them Right - and Early - In the Kitchen

March 2016

Learning about eating right and how to buy and prepare food starts early. Parents have a great opportunity to start kids out with healthy eating habits and teach them about good food – what it is, how to make it, and how to appreciate it – from the beginning.

If you like to cook, or are at least comfortable in the kitchen, teaching children to cook can be the best and easiest way to teach them great food habits. Not only does cooking together provide a core set of essential life skills and the confidence that comes with them, it is also a great way to spend time together as a family, doing something that benefits everyone in it.

Even the youngest of children can help with simple tasks. Toddlers as young as two years old can start to help with stirring, scooping and spooning ingredients or batters. The energy level and enthusiasm of the pre-K age group is perfectly suited to mashing, mixing, tearing and squashing. Using a mortar and pestle is more fun than work when you’re four years old! Carefully supervised, first and second graders can grate cheese, learn to cut with small (paring) knives, grease or line baking dishes, peel oranges and hard boiled eggs and set the table. Older elementary school children can start to follow simple recipes, make salads and learn to peel vegetables. Continuing to develop their knife skills at this age is also appropriate, and whisks and can openers can become part of their repertoire.

Children are typically distracted easily, so constant supervision is needed to keep them on track and task. Before beginning any kitchen tasks, it’s important to explain clearly what will be made, what is expected of them and how the process will go. Let them get their hands dirty! Cooking is fun, but messy work. Speaking of messy, learning to “clean as you go” is a critical lesson for managing kitchen projects; set up an empty dishpan at the appropriate height and teach children to put utensils in it as they are dirtied.

It’s natural to want to keep children from making mistakes as they learn, but mistakes are part of the process. Every child learns at their own pace, in their own way; each kitchen encounter offers the opportunity to do that – enjoy it!