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1/15/13blog post

nine reasons to teach our kids to cook

Has cooking become a lost art? Have you seen the show, The Middle, where dinner consists of take-out? I was lucky to grow up with a mother who cooked (take out for nine was too expensive!). I remember helping to cook, especially during the holidays. We each had “our cookie” to make; mine later became buckeyes. My interest in the science and creativity of cooking blossomed in high school and still remains strong. Recently, Alex made pancakes and I asked him to leave out the baking soda for some of the pancakes (about 1 cup’s worth of batter) as a science experiment to show our kids the effect of baking soda on pancakes!

Top 9 reasons to teach our kids how to cook:

  1. Family bonding: How many meals do you eat with your family? Research shows that we eat fewer meals together as the kids get older. That probably also means less cooking together in the kitchen. Spending time together opens the door to conversation. With our busy lives, keeping in touch is important!
  2. Ownership: Allowing your child to participate in the menu and food prep helps build ownership in what and how they eat. Allow them to choose the frozen vegetable. Encourage them to choose a new fruit or vegetable to try from the grocery. Have them decide on chicken or pork. Let them choose between white milk or chocolate milk for dinner. Get them involved in making the meal. Younger children can help wash lettuce and use the salad spinner or pick grapes off the vine and wash them in the strainer (anything that involves water is fun!). If the child is involved, they usually eat better too.
  3. Builds reading skills: Patrick can read recipes now and he is learning the American measurements. (Does this count as part of our 15-20 minutes reading time each day?!)
  4. Builds math concepts: We often refer to halves and wholes with bananas. Now, with our children older and wiser, baking helps because of actually measuring the flour and sugar and understanding fractions. When recipes get multiplied, more fun happens!
  5. Teaches science concepts: Cooking is science. Allow the child to crack an egg – where does a chicken come from? Leave out an ingredient from a recipe and see what happens (maybe take a small portion out of the original recipe for this experiment to then compare to the original recipe). Cook vegetables in different ways: microwave, boil, steam, even grill. Mix oil and vinegar – what happens? Add blue food coloring to mashed potatoes – how do they taste? (I did this once to my Dad and he did not like the taste!)
  6. Awareness: Cooking enhances safety skills. The boys have learned from a young age to stay away from the stove and oven. As they got older and could see the red dots on the flat range, indicating which spot was hot, they again learned to stay away and not touch. Now, I am teaching Patrick the importance of keeping the pot handles turned in. He is learning how to turn the stove and oven on. We are including Matthew in learning to pop microwave popcorn and how steam is hot and can burn. Simple to you and me but a whole new world to the kids.
  7. Creativity: Cooking brings creativity to the kitchen and to our minds. Cooking, to me, is peaceful and (finally) I found my creative spirit. It teaches that “we can mess a recipe up” and may find we like the new taste. Also, teaching to cook without a recipe is fun, especially testing it on your family!
  8. Teaches nutrition: Some of us cook, some of us may not. Cooking at home not only saves money, but also provides us with healthier meals. Someday, our kids will need to fend for themselves – and hopefully make a meal or two for us! In the study from Larson, et al, (2007) eating meals as a family especially during adolescence predicted healthier food choices into adulthood. Fulkerson, et al (2009) learned that the incidence of being overweight was higher in those adolescents who reported never eating family dinner compared to those that eat five to seven family meals a week.
  9. A Lost Art: I remember hearing a story a long time ago that a child thought cookies came from a package. I committed to memory that our children needed to know how they are really made (Yes, cookies by a dietitian!). We don’t have to cook from scratch- semi-homemade cooking works well too. Even try baking a bread mix and adding dried fruit or nuts to it.

Choose a fun recipe and cook with your child(ren) in your kitchen. There are many cookbooks and apps that are geared towards cooking with children. These could make great presents and create lots of fun and education in your kitchen. Will cooking more with your child(ren) be a New Year’s Resolution in your home?