Teaching your children to cook gives them valuable experiences that they'll carry with them throughout their lives. As they become comfortable in the kitchen, they will develop knowledge of good nutrition and healthy eating habits. Using a variety of dry and liquid measuring utensils even helps reinforce math skills. Cooking helps teach kids how to plan, listen, follow directions, and solve problems, and how to be safe in the kitchen.
"Children under age two can learn by watching you in the kitchen, but should be kept a safe distance from the actual food preparation," said Jenny Thompson, Dietitian with Hy-Vee Newton. "Make sure they can't climb onto countertops, and remove any hanging towels to prevent them from pulling hot items down onto themselves."
Thompson says that three-year-old children can start getting more involved with the food preparation process by washing fruits and vegetables, stirring ingredients together, and pouring liquids into mixing bowls. "By age four, kids can help open food packages, grease pans, peel hard-boiled eggs, and mash potatoes with a fork," she added. "If your child has learned to use scissors safely, they can help snip herbs with dull scissors."
Children ages five and six can learn to use a blunt knife to cut soft foods. They can set the table and learn to measure and combine ingredients. By ages seven and eight, they can roll and shape dough, whisk ingredients together, and help locate ingredients in the kitchen. Ages nine to twelve can use a peeler, assemble a salad, shred cheese, and use an oven with adult supervision. Ages thirteen and up can independently prepare recipes with multiple ingredients.
"Kids are more likely to try different foods if they've helped to prepare it," said Thompson. "It helps build self-esteem when they establish a sense of pride by seeing others enjoy what they've created. It's also a great way to spend family time together."
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