Cooking can be a fantastic teaching tool for kids in many ways. Cooking is science, math, and art all rolled into one. It’s also a good way to make kids more self-sufficient, get them to try new foods, and teach a useful life skill. Spending time together in the kitchen is a great bonding experience as well.
Starting off small, toddlers can help stir, measure out ingredients, prep ingredients, and come along to shop for the necessities. It helps develop motor skills, and most kids love getting to be a “little chef.” Especially if they get their own cool apron.
As kids get older, they can learn to read the recipes, practice fractions to measure out 2/3 of a cup, learn weights and measures by figuring out that whole confusing pints, quarts, gallons mess, and practice basic math skills by having to double or halve a recipe.
Chemistry comes into the mix when you learn the hard way what happens when baking soda is left out of the chocolate chip cookies, or when you use too much or too little of different thickeners such as corn starch, arrowroot, flour, and agar agar.
Older kids can learn good research and planning skills by finding and choosing the recipes, making the shopping list, and figuring out when they will need to start cooking to have dinner on the table at the usual time.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can check out some molecular gastronomy kits and add even more science to your cooking.
If you’re not into cooking or just way too busy to cook, a lot of these skills can be learned even from making a dinner consisting of microwaved burritos (read directions, figure out timing) and a bag of pre-made salad. Or you could encourage math skills development by figuring out the exact change needed to buy lunch together. You could also watch some Good Eats together, which if you haven’t seen it is sort of Bill Nye the Science Guy-meets-cooking-show.
Here are some of the favorites for cooking with my preschooler to date.
- Stir scrambled eggs while they are cooking (with close supervision)
- Stir bowls of ingredients for baking
- Mash the bananas for bread or muffins
- Wash produce
- Use the salad spinner
- Hold the grocery list
- Fill a measuring cup of dry ingredients and pour it into the bowl (having them use a spoon to fill the measuring cup helps)
- De-stemming mushrooms
- Slice bananas, avocados, and other soft foods with butter knife
- Cracking/opening eggs
- Going through cookbooks/searching for internet recipes together to help choose what to make
- Pour the ingredients into the bowl/pot/pan (with close supervision)
- Help unload the dishwasher – she puts away all the silverware, which builds sorting skills and keeps my plates and glasses intact
- Counting and sorting skills – put three carrot sticks on each plate, for example.
- Clear the table and put dirty dishes in the sink
- Pour batter for pancakes, waffles, muffins, etc.
I’ll periodically come back and update this list as she gets a little older and we get more adventurous in the kitchen. Parents with older kids, please chime in with what your kids love to make and help out with in the kitchen.