When I heard Jamie Oliver speak in Toronto in November 2009 about the Food Revolution, I knew that I had to get involved. As a full-time teacher, I did what I could, and started teaching my students how to cook.
I’ve been teaching kids to cook for over five years now in after-school cooking clubs, and I’m a huge advocate for getting home economics back on school curriculums. As well as teaching kids important information about food, where it comes from, and how to prepare it, food education is also teaching valuable academic (maths, reading comprehension, problem solving) and life skills. Getting kids in the kitchen and showing them how to prepare simple, real food meals is setting them up for a future where they are able to make informed choices about what they eat and take control of their health.
Kids need to be introduced to cooking in a fun and engaging way. A lot of people are intimidated by the prospect of cooking with their kids, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are five simple tips to help you get in the kitchen cooking with your kids.
1. Make the time
The single most common reason people give for not cooking with their kids is that they do not have time, but it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”. Just because you don’t have the time to cook with your kids every night isn’t a reason to never cook with them.
Weekends, when most people have a little more time to spend on the food they eat, are a great place to start. Set aside a couple of hours on a weekend to prepare a meal with your kids. That prep can include shopping for the ingredients (a trip to the local farmer’s market can be a lot of fun!) or just sharing the jobs in the kitchen.
Breakfast is a great introduction to cooking, since it’s the most important meal of the day and full of lots of basics. If you teach your kids a handful of “must know” breakfast dishes, you’re setting them up for life. Pancakes, eggy bread, scrambled eggs, box grater fruit salad or super smoothies are all invaluable, simple, and exciting.
Read more about healthy breakfasts for families by Food Tube’s Kerryann Dunlop for more inspiration.
2. Find the right recipes
Too often, people think that they need a special cookbook for cooking with kids. I disagree.
As a starting point, a book like Jamie’s Ministry of Food cookbook, which teaches “basic cooking skills” and includes recipes for “affordable family meals from scratch at home” is perfect; you’ll teach your kids how to make some of their favourite dishes (spaghetti and meatballs, for example), modified to reduce salt, fat and calories – not that you’d notice those things were missing, because the dishes taste so good. You’re looking for a regular cookbook with well written, easy-to-follow recipes with enough tasks to keep little minds (and hands) busy.
If you’re working with more capable kids or feel confident, look for recipes that challenge both their skill set and palate (like, say chicken tikka masala).
For more ideas and inspiration, check out our Family section!
3. Don’t get hung up on having “the right equipment”
Don’t feel like you need to buy special equipment for your kids – in fact, even if you do,hey will grow out of kid-sized utensils really quickly. With a sharp paring knife (nothing is more dangerous than a dull knife, contrary to what you may think!), and solid cutting boards – both wooden and plastic – secured with a damp cloths or paper towels underneath, you can teach youngsters basic knife skills.
With bowls of various sizes, you can impart the wisdom of separating rubbish (food scraps in one bowl, other rubbish in another), and encourage them to keep their workspace clean. Both knife skills and the concept of cleaning as they go will take them far!
If you’re wondering if your kitchen is “equipped” enough to be cooking with kids, check out Jamie’s “must-have kitchen kit” in the video below. You’ll find a sensible list of items you probably already have like a food processor, a kettle, a selection of pans and trays, a Dutch oven, a sieve, a colander, cake racks, a scale, a pestle and mortar, a box grater, measuring jugs and cups, tongs, a vegetable speed peeler… Do you see a pattern here? That’s right – nothing too out of the ordinary and items you most likely already own.
4. Don’t worry if your kids are “picky” eaters
Involving your kids in meal preparation, even if it’s a meal they claim to dislike, is a great way to encourage interest in food and cooking, as well as encourage the acquisition of new tastes.
Make sure there is at least one component that they will absolutely eat, and encourage them to try just one bite of the rest – you might be surprised to see your fussy eater eating more than you expect. Kids are more likely to taste what they make themselves, out of curiosity if nothing else.
Even if they don’t end up loving what you make together, rest assured that you are still teaching them valuable kitchen skills – and hey, you never know, they might get there eventually. Just don’t make a big deal out of it – one bite is enough, and often they will eat much more than that with time!
5. Be patient
Yes, it’s probably quicker if you do it yourself, but remember the old saying about teaching a man to fish? Well, the same goes for cooking.
The more you cook with kids, the faster they will be. Be be patient as they carefully chop their first onion or mince the garlic at an agonisingly slow rate, and resist the urge to “do it for them” just because it’s faster –they’ll never learn if you don’t let them try on their own. Just factor in extra time when preparing even simple recipes, and soon you’ll find that the more you cook with your kids, the less and less of that extra time you’ll need.
So, get into the kitchen with your kids – it doesn’t have to be complicated. Set aside some time this weekend, ask your kids to help you choose a recipe, take them shopping, and go from there. I can’t think of a better way to promote food education than in your own home.
11 Easy Ways to Get Kids Cooking
Cooking with kids can feel daunting (the knives! the mess!). But these bite-sized tasks are perfect for getting children of all ages into the kitchen.
A recent survey by Uncle Ben’s Beginners found that 90% of parents believe it’s important for their kids to cook, but only 1/3 actually cook with their kids on a weekly basis. Parents said they𠆝 cook with their kids more often if:
- they had more time
- their kids were more interested
- they had better culinary skills
- it didn’t make so much of a mess
With three kids under 10, I’ll be the first to agree that cooking with your kids can feel like more trouble than it’s worth. It does require more clean up and more patience than cooking on your own. Not only do you have to help guide young kids with every step, you may not always agree on which ingredients to include in a dish. And when school-age kids discover that you’re making a salad instead of brownies, they may suddenly disappear.
But I also know that time spent together in the kitchen is meaningful. Cooking can help kids learn everything from math and reading skills to basic chemistry and nutrition. (Not to mention… how to cook!) Here are some ideas for getting kids of all ages to spend more time with you in the kitchen.
Kid Cooking Tips
Keep the mood light: Kitchens brim with potentially dangerous equipment. From hot stoves to sharp knives, there&aposs plenty around to make you nervous, but steel yourself. Kids can read anxiety, and if you&aposre not relaxed, they won&apost be either. Supervise them closely and be aware of hazards, but proceed anyway, with an upbeat voice and smiling eyes.
Strike a deal: Kids take to new learning opportunities best when they have a stake in the outcome, so make them part of the process. If they want to make cookies, let them. But the next lesson is yours to choose. Alternate between treats and more healthful, everyday fare, from cookies and pies to salads and smoothies.
Don&apost neglect terminology: Kids are blank slates, and words like fold, sear, and sauté are meaningless until properly defined. You can use easier words if you like, but why bother? Mastering a new lexicon is part of skill-building plus, kids are sponges when it comes to language acquisition. Soon they&aposll be bandying about new words like natives. ("Mom, can I go sauté up and down on your bed?")
Dig deeper: Teaching kids to cook also presents opportunities to talk about culture, family history, nutrition, food politics, and hunger. Depending on your child&aposs age, consider sprinkling your lessons with gentle forays into these deeper waters, avoiding heavy-handed moralizing but introducing your kids to some of the broader issues surrounding food. You&aposre not just educating a future cook you&aposre influencing a lifelong eater.
Keep your eye on the prize: Your ultimate goal is not the creation of restaurant-quality dishes, but boosting your child&aposs self-esteem and encouraging their burgeoning independence. If, at the end of your lessons, you&aposve got a happy kid who&aposs excited to spend time in the kitchen, you&aposve done your job, and done it well.
Tips for Cooking with Toddlers and Kids
I promised that I’d give you some tested tips to help you not lose your mind in the kitchen with your kids, and these do make a HUGE difference – I speak from personal experience:
- Plan for Extra Time: To be totally honest with you, I’ve had more than my fair share of frustrating cooking experiences with my own kids, and every time it’s happened, it’s been because I was in a hurry and not ready to embrace the mess or extra patience needed.
- Be in the mood: If it’s one of those days where everything seems to be falling apart, then it’s probably not the best idea to squeeze in cooking together or it’s not going to be enjoyable for anyone. You don’t have to cook together everyday!
- Embrace the mess: You’re cooking with kids and toddlers, it’s a fact that your kitchen will be messier than usual. Flour will be on the floor, outside of the bowl, and on your child’s face. That’s okay, as long as you go into it knowing you’ll need a few extra minutes to clean up! While you can take simple steps (see below) to help minimize the mess, you also don’t want to be freaking out every time a crumb hits the floor.
- Clear off a cooking space: If you have a small working space or toys, books, and various clutter stacked around, like I often do, clear a spot at the counter, island, or table where you’re free to cook without risk of ruining something if a spill happens.
- Wear old clothes or an apron: Swap out your kids new shirt for an old one you don’t care about or wrap them up in some aprons (you can find kid sizes here).
- Have two wet rags on hand: You’ll need one rag to clean up any spills and one to clean up messy hands and messy faces. The latter is especially important if your child does have some tactile sensitivity or defensiveness. While we want them to tolerate different textures, we also want to show them that it’s okay to touch something because you can just wipe your hands off.
- Use a garbage bowl: Have a large bowl on the counter that they can throw scraps and garbage into. Kids will love helping clean up in this way! Or, you can also bring your garbage can next to your cooking space!
- Seize the moment: I know I already said to plan ahead, but sometimes opportunity strikes, and as you’ll see in the list of ways your kid can help you cook below, they may help you with just a few tasks, which is better than no help at all! Just be willing to roll with it if you go this route.
From the ripe ole age of four, children learn to follow direction and duplicate tasks. This is a great time to begin working with them on delegating tasks. From cutting soft vegetables, like steamed broccoli, to pealing a potato, children can take a lot of the redundant tasks off of your hands and they will be happy to do so.
Kids love to be in the kitchen, it makes them feel important and grown up because they believe the kitchen is reserved for "big people." Giving them a few tasks to perform helps to build their confidence and begins teaching them about kitchen safety. As they get older, you will find yourself needing to do less and less as they become more comfortable around the tools and foods of the kitchen. Each of our cooking lesson levels have appropriate tasks per age.
Have Them Clean Up Afterwards
Sometimes, cooking with kids isn't stressful until it is time to clean up. This could be another delegated task, but just having them help can remove a big part of stress. Let one wipe the scraps into the trash while the other rinses the plate off to hand to you. Make cleaning up just as much fun as the cooking and it will not be a problem getting your kids to help out.
Cooking with your kids can be an extremely joyous and fun time. It takes a little thinking ahead, the right tools and a good attitude, but nothing you can't accomplish on your own. Call the little ones, give them a peeler and a task and watch as your stress levels are peeled off like that potato.
We always have tons of sweet cherry tomatoes at the beginning of the school year. We like to roast them at a low temperature for about an hour until they become soft and tender and sweet as candy. Can be served on salads or as a snack or the basis of a pasta sauce.
4 cups yellow and red cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil, cut into thin ribbon like slices
1/4 chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
Place the tomatoes on a large baking sheet and toss the tomatoes, oil, salt, pepper, basil and parsley.
Bake on the middle shelf for about an hour or until soft and tender and almost bursting.
Teaching Kids to Cook
The best way to teach kids about eating right is to get them into the kitchen to prepare healthy meals together. Cooking is a valuable life skill that teaches children about nutrition and food safety, as well as building math, science, literacy and fine motor skills.
Encourage your child's interest and excitement in healthy foods by teaching them how to cook safely with this guide of age-appropriate kitchen activities.
Food Safety Basics
Before you enter the kitchen, cover the ground rules with children first:
- in warm, soapy water before and after handling food.
- Pull back long hair, off the shoulders.
- Keep counter tops and working surfaces clean.
- Teach children to wait until food is cooked before tasting. Don't let them lick their fingers or put their hands in their mouths, especially when working with raw foods such as cookie dough and raw meat or poultry.
- Avoid double dipping or putting spoons back into food after using them for tasting.
- Remember, young cooks need supervision.
- Follow the four simple steps:
- Wash hands, surfaces and kitchen utensils.
- Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from cooked and other ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook to proper temperatures.
- Refrigerate promptly to 40°F or lower.
These basics are helpful guidelines for children and adults of all ages.
3-5 year olds
Young children love helping out, but need very close adult supervision since their motor skills are still developing. Teach these youngsters the importance of washing produce and using clean appliances and utensils.
- Wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Make it a game by singing the "Happy Birthday" song together twice as you wash your hands.
- Wash fruits and vegetables in the sink with cool tap water.
- Wipe up tabletops.
- Mix ingredients like easy-to-mix batters.
- Brush (or "paint") cooking oil with a clean pastry or basting brush on bread, asparagus or other foods.
- Cut cookies with fun shaped cookie cutters (but don't eat the raw dough!).
6-7 year olds
Most 6-7 year olds have developed fine motor skills, so they can handle more detailed work, but they will still need food safety reminders.
- Use a peeler to peel raw potatoes, ginger, mangoes and other washed fruits and vegetables.
- Break eggs into a bowl and remember to wash hands afterwards.
- Scoop out avocados after sliced in half by an adult.
- Deseed tomatoes and cooled, roasted peppers with a spoon.
- Snap green beans.
- Load the dishwasher.
- Shuck corn and rinse before cooking.
- Rinse and cut parsley or green onions with clean, blunt kitchen scissors.
8-9 year olds
There is a wide range of skills in this age group, so tailor your tasks to each individual's maturity level. Teach the importance of wiping down all surfaces and refrigerating perishables, such as eggs and milk, right away.
- Open cans with a can opener.
- Put leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate within two hours (one hour if it&rsquos warmer than ninety degrees).
- Pound chicken on a cutting board. Note: Always use a separate cutting board for ready-to-eat and raw foods, and be sure to wash hands with warm, soapy water after handling raw meats and chicken.
- Beat eggs.
- Check the temperature of meat with a food thermometer &ndash it's like a science experiment!
- Juice a lemon or orange.
10-12 year olds
For the most part, kids ages 10 -12 can work independently in the kitchen, but should still have adult supervision. Before letting these kids do grown-up tasks on their own, assess whether they can follow basic kitchen rules such as adjusting pan handles over counters to avoid bumping into them, unplugging electrical appliances, using knives and safely using the oven or microwave.
Appropriate Tasks (with adult supervision):
- Boil pasta.
- Microwave foods.
- Follow a recipe, including reading each step in order and measuring ingredients accurately.
- Bake foods in the oven.
- Simmer ingredients on the stove.
- Slice or chop vegetables.
Cooking together can be a fun way to teach your child valuable skills, promote good nutrition and make long-lasting memories in the process.
Cooking Basics: How to Read A Recipe
Try these tips and you won&apost get stuck or surprised halfway through making your meal.
1. Read the Recipe, Start to Finish
Think of it like reading the rules to a new board game. You wouldn&apost set up the game and start playing without knowing what you&aposre supposed to do after the first moves. The first thing you&aposll usually see is a short description that might tell you the story behind the recipe, give you some idea how to serve it (is it an ideal centerpiece for a Superbowl party or a side dish for a light dinner?) or give you preparation advice. You&aposll see how many servings the recipe should make. Next come the ingredients, which should be listed in the same order that you&aposre going to use them in the recipe. The ingredients will be presented a little differently depending whether you should prepare them before they&aposre measured. For instance, "1 tablespoon chopped nuts" means that you should chop the nuts first and then measure out a tablespoon. However, "One tablespoon nuts, chopped" means you should measure out a tablespoon of nuts and then chop them. Finally come the instructions, a step-by-step guide for taking those ingredients and turning them into your finished dish.
2. Check Ingredients and Equipment
Make sure you really have all the ingredients and equipment called for in the recipe. Is that baking pan really a nine-inch round, for instance, or is it just eight inches? You may remember having two eggs in the fridge, but double-check now that no one else used them since you last looked. And maybe you could have sworn you had coriander in the spice cabinet, but it turns out it was really cardamom. You can often substitute ingredients or adjust cooking tools if needed, but it&aposs better to know what you&aposre dealing with at the beginning and make a game plan for plugging any holes.
3. Instill Good Habits
When you let your kids help you out in the kitchen, you’re obviously teaching them valuable life skills. However, baking a cake or frying the perfect eggs aren’t the only lessons you can give your children in the kitchen. You can also use cooking as an opportunity to teach your kids about everything from tidying up after themselves to chemistry. When you’re working with your kids in the kitchen, clean up as you go along. This will help your children think of clearing counters and dishes as a part of the cooking process, and save them (and you) a lot of work once the meal is finished.
That said, it would be wise to resign yourself to a little extra mess from the start. Even at their best, kids tend to spill more than their grown-up counterparts. Keep that in mind early on, and you’ll be less stressed out when you need to clean up puddles you wouldn’t have made on your own.
Sometimes this is what helping looks like.
Ideas, Tips, and Recipes for Cooking with Kids
1. Classroom Recipes: Slow Cooker Applesauce (Pre-K Pages) – Today I’m going to share with you a super easy and healthy recipe for homemade applesauce for kids you can make in a slow cooker in your classroom!
2. Classroom Recipes: Vegetable Soup (Pre-K Pages) – Read the book Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert, and then make vegetable soup – a popular classroom recipe.
3. Pumpkin Pie in a Cup (Pre-K Pages) – I shared this recipe for easy Thanksgiving pumpkin pie in a cup on my Facebook page last week and there was a lot of interest so I added some pictures and a printable recipe for you.
4. Picture Recipes (Pre-K Pages) – Free printable picture recipes for cooking with kids in the preschool, pre-k, or kindergarten classroom.
5. Pumpkin Play Dough (Pre-K Pages) – This pumpkin pie play dough recipe is so easy and it only requires two ingredients. This fall activity makes it perfect for the classroom!
6. Rainbow Fruit Salad (Teach Preschool) – This cooking activity is a wonderful mult-sensory experience for your children to engage in.
7. Cooking up Rainbow Toast (Teach Preschool) – A little food coloring, milk, and bread makes for a fun cooking activity with this rainbow toast!
8. The Challenge of Cooking in Preschool (Teach Preschool) – With these step by step photos you will see how easy it can be to cook with your preschoolers!
9. Cooking Kit for the Classroom (Prekinders) – If you cook with your preschoolers, this easy to put together cooking kit will come in handy!
10. Kid Recipes (Prekinders) – These easy no-heat kid friendly recipes are exactly what your classroom needs!
11. Teaching Math and Reading Through Cooking (Mom with a Lesson Plan) – They learn science along with fine motor skills, sequencing and direction following when you cook with your preschoolers.
12. Books to Inspire Cooking with Kids (Growing Book by Book) – We share with everyone our top 10 favorite books to inspire cooking with children.
On Cooking with Kids
G etting kids into the kitchen to cook with you is a win-win situation, no matter how old they are and no matter what you make. By interacting with you in the kitchen, your child will gain more than just learning how to cook. First and foremost, you will have the opportunity to foster a greater sense of intimacy between you and your child. Here are a few other positive results from interacting together in the kitchen, which are then broken down into age groups:
- Reading and following recipes improves math, science and reading comprehension skills.
- Eating dishes from other countries enables learning about other cultures, foreign languages, and geography, and provides a culinary vocabulary.
- Learning about food preparation enhances organizational and cleanliness skills.
- Chances are greater that your child will eat the healthy food you are making if he helps.
- Cooking together strengthens feelings of responsibility and being a valued member of the team, will form a lifetime of good memories and help to strengthen bonds.
Preschool: Fine motor skills are enhanced with motions like pouring and stirring counting ingredients and amounts teaches simple math skills and working as a team reinforces socializing, learning how to share, and taking turns.
Elementary: Math, science, and reading skills are practiced and improved an understanding of other cultures and traditions can be taught the rudiments of nutrition can be learned and basic cooking skills are learned.
Teenagers: Cooking skills and techniques are refined and knowledge of global cuisine can be enhanced a sense of success and accomplishment is gained by making a dish or a whole meal.
How can you get the kids more involved in the kitchen?
Here are five steps to a successful time together:
1. Ask them what they&aposd like to make, to give them a sense of control and self-worth.
2. Read the recipe first together so that you know what happens and in what order.
3. Take out all of the ingredients ahead of time and have the proper tools ready and grouped in the order in which you&aposre going to use them.
4. Have towels at the ready.
5. Practice patience and have a sense of humor—the two most valuable tools!
Creating a Kid-Friendly Kitchen
While small children definitely require a kitchen in lockdown status, no matter what the age of your child, there are a few things every parent should do to keep the kitchen safe.
While age-appropriate equipment and tools should be in a place where your child can easily reach them, dangerous items such as knives, kitchen scissors, matches, igniters, and anything with sharp blades, like food processors, should be kept out of reach. Depending on the child&aposs level of maturity, this can apply to households with teenagers as well. Also, a small child needs a slip-free step stool.
Non-toxic cleaning supplies, a broom, and a mop should be easily accessible to your kids so that cleaning up becomes an integral part of the cooking/eating process. Get a few fun, funky aprons to have on hand.
Cookbooks, nutritional guides, food magazines, bookmarked food Web sites, and other inspirational materials should be easily available to kids.
"Sometimes foods" (cookies, candy etc) should be placed higher in the cupboard so that they cannot easily be reached or be within the line of sight. Healthier snacks, such as fruit, pretzels, nuts, raisins, mozzarella sticks, on the other hand, should be easily reachable.
The preceding is from Real Food for Healthy Kids by Tracey Seaman and Tanya Wenman Steel, © 2008, reprinted by permission of William Morrow/An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. To browse inside the Real Food for Healthy Kids cookbook, click here.