Cooking with Your Kids. Here’s Why You Should. No, Really, You Should.

At first I didn’t notice the two young women, peering through our kitchen window at my son and me.

At the time we were living in an old building in the center of Budapest, one of those ones with a central courtyard ringed with iron-railed balconies through which everyone accesses their own flat. Etiquette dictates that you never look into the windows you pass, never cop a glance at the lives inside.

Yet here were two women unabashedly staring at us, hands cupped over eyes to cut the glare. This was an egregious breach of protocol, but they were smiling, at least, so I smiled back. They watched us for several moments, then waved and went their way.

They had been drawn to the sound, I suppose, of meat being pounded out on the kitchen counter. My son was four at the time, standing on a chair, swinging a heavy stainless steel meat tenderizer over his head and bringing it down hard, like he was chopping wood with one hand. He was good at this. He had been cooking with me, one way or another, since he’d been born.

What do you do with an infant when you’re home alone and need to prepare dinner? I don’t know what other folks do, but I’d slip him in the Baby Bjorn and get on with dicing vegetables, roasting meats, making sauces. By the time he was three or four, he could perform basic kitchen tasks. Cooking with him was largely dictated by necessity, but there are very good reasons why you should cook with your kids.

Start them early

Start them early

First of all, and most obviously, it brings the family together in the same room, performing a shared task. It is, as they say, “quality time,” and in this hectic and perpetually plugged-in era in which we live, cooking together provides an opportunity to disconnect electronically and connect personally.

Cooking also encourages kids to try new foods. You might be amazed at the stuff they’ll try if they’ve actually prepared it themselves. Got a kid who won’t touch green beans? Bring her into the kitchen to slice off the ends and give them a thorough wash (or even better, send her out into the garden first to pick them), and then praise the job she’s done with them, and she might just give them a go.

G chopping broad beans

G with his favorite knife.

Our kids scarf stuff that I wouldn’t have even sniffed at their age, and I think part of that is because they’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen, surrounded by pungent sausages, stinky cheeses, lamb shanks, whole glistening fish with their glazed, staring eyes.

How many people do you know who say, “I can’t cook?” How many college-aged kids have skills that don’t extend much beyond opening a box of florescent mac-and-cheese? Cooking is a life-long skill that has important benefits:

  • You tend to eat much, much more healthily when you cook your own food.
  • You have more respect for (and knowledge of) where your food comes from. Spaghetti sauce doesn’t have to come from a jar; cheese is made of milk, salt, and enzymes, and does not have to contain FD&C #5 E102.
  • It creates a closeness with food that has been largely lost these days, when too many people have a seemingly adversarial relationship with what they eat.
  • You are more inclined to experiment and try new dishes and cuisines.
  • Cooking at home is less expensive and more satisfying.
  • Perhaps most importantly, dates think it’s totally hot when you can slice and dice and whip out an amazing meal.

Kids love doing grown-up things, and cooking fosters a sense of both responsibility and self-confidence. Our four year old has his own paring knife and vegetable peeler, and they are among his proudest possessions. (By the way, don’t be afraid to let your kids use kitchen utensils; just show them how to use them properly, and don’t leave your toddler in the kitchen chopping carrots with a 10-inch chef’s knife while you sneak off to do bong hits and play Grand Theft Auto.)

D baking in the kitchen

Yup, sometimes it’s messy

Cooking is educational. What makes bread rise? Why do liquids emulsify in the presence of certain ingredients? Measurement and volume. Heat and duration. Basic math. A kitchen is the coolest laboratory in the world, with the added bonus of getting to eat your experiments.

Now granted, cooking with your kids on a regular basis, particularly when you’re trying to get dinner on the table and little Liam is taking forever with the cucumbers and Emma has just spilled flour all over the floor, takes a tiny portion of planning and a whole plateful of patience.

G stirring play dough3

Get them making play-dough for starters

Start small. Baking is a great way to ease into the whole cooking thing; cookies and cupcakes are incredibly easy to prepare and the kids will obviously be excited about sampling the end result. Young kids can measure, pour and mix, wash vegetables, shuck corn, peel, juice, mash, etc. When they get a bit bigger or more experienced, let them pound meat, cut vegetables, saute items, and  invent simple recipes.

Web MD suggests you have kids cut vegetables with a plastic or dinner knife. I disagree. Would you cut up vegetables with a plastic knife? As I said, our youngest, who is four, has his own small knife, and it’s the sharpest in the house. He knocks out fabulous chopped salads and has never once cut himself. Just show them how to use tools properly, and supervise them when necessary.

These are only a handful of the many varied reasons to get your kids cooking, so bring them into the kitchen and get to it. Tonight, in fact, we’re making garlic naan together to go with our spicy pumpkin-lentil soup. I plan to get the kids to do pretty much the entire preparation themselves. Now where are my bong and joystick?

D made this dinner mostly on his own. Kudos, my boy. Kudos.

D made this dinner mostly on his own. Kudos, my boy. Kudos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 thoughts on “Cooking with Your Kids. Here’s Why You Should. No, Really, You Should.

  1. You should check out Master Chef Junior with your kids. It’s a much more positive version of the adult show, has great messages of persistence, friendship, and helping others, and has inspired my daughter to want to cook more with me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my babysitter (she was a retired teacher, and although no relation, we called her Aunt Marion – I have no idea why. I loved that woman second only to my own parents) when my mom went back to work when I entered school. I will always be grateful to her and to my mom for spending time with me in the kitchen, showing me the ropes. I love food primarily because of those two women, and it gives me immense satisfaction to see my own kids happily peeling cucumbers or stirring cookie dough. Thanks for visiting, Jay!

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  2. I’m seriously impressed. Kudos you (and D) fellow dad. You’re doing good work. I used to cook with my 2 boys when they were each infants. I would do the same, put them in their carrier and wear them while I cooked. However, once they were old enough to be on their own I didn’t require them to be with me. I’d let them play on the floor. I just taught my 7 year old to make Kraft Dinner… So maybe that’s a start? LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, stomperdad! Too bad you stopped cooking with the kids – I bet if you gave it a shot they’d be up for it. Your 7 year old is definitely old enough to get peeling and slicing. Put those lazy little buggers to work!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will definitely be teaching them to cook now! Right now his “Thanks for supper” is to dry and put away the supper dishes after I wash them. But I think from now he’ll be included in the supper making process. The 3 year old could do the dumping of ingredients and stirring. Thanks for the inspiration!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! Kudos to you too! I’m in awe. 4 year old already able to use real knives…and cooking his own meal is out of this world!

    I’ve always cringed at sharp knives. You’ve opened up my perspective. Something I’ll hv to try with my 4 yo too…If i’m not the first to freak out! :p

    Kudos daddy, Kudos!😄

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t freak out, Ann, don’t freak out. Just keep an eye on them, teach them the fundamentals, and they’ll be fine. Thanks for visiting, and let me know how it goes!

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  4. Our dad had us in the kitchen on a weekly rotation, so we each got at least one night a week when we got to spend time with him one-on-one. We were involved in every part of the meal, from the planning to the shopping to the cooking itself. And we each had to pick one new meal to try each month, so we got a lot of experience making different kinds of food (definitely no fish with heads, though!).

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    • Yeah, it seems like a lot of people these days, (particularly in the US), have an unhealthy relationship with food. It shouldn’t be that way. It doesn’t HAVE to be that way at all. I want my kids to love food, not be obsessed with it, fearful of it, or, I must admit, eat the worst versions of it. I’ve never seen the show, but I’d probably like it. Anyway, thanks for visiting and leaving your thoughts!

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