Of the many activities that can be done with kids, cooking is the easiest, given that every home will have a kitchen! The trick is to make it desirable and fun. The manner in which children are introduced to cooking can alter the way they look at food per se. Moreover, with young children they may even become more interested in nutritious foods like vegetables if they can participate in the cooking.
Cooking can be a great way to educate kids on the nutritional value of food, learn important life skills like patience & team work, boost self- confidence, inculcate appreciation for other people’s efforts, foster experimentation and creativity. Not to mention the kick that a young kid gets at a dish prepared by him/her being presented at the dining table is incomparable!
Any type of cooking can be broadly classified into four sections, Preparation, actual Cooking, Presentation and Cleaning Up. Depending on a child’s age, time available and overall environment, children can be engaged interestingly in different aspects of cooking.
Once again depending on the child’s age and your own skills in the area, plan a funfilled cooking session along with your young one!
Here are some tips.
- Hygiene is of utmost importance. Remember to begin by washing hands. If you wear an apron and a chef’s hat, it would not only make the activity more dramatic but also give you an opportunity to explain the logic behind the uniform code. Tie up your daughter’s hair in a scrunchy as you explain to her how a hat prevents hair falling into the food being cooked.
- Prepare thoroughly by putting out all the ingredients at the counter or the table. Explain how it is a good idea to plan ahead so that you don’t run helter- skelter looking for something when it is required to be put into a dish urgently.
- Use the opportunity to teach children how to read a recipe, if you are yourself referring to a recipe book, But in case you are cooking a dish whose recipe you know well, write down the ingredients on a sheet of paper and go over it with your child. Evolve your own unique method of checking.
- Use the time to introduce concepts and knowledge about ingredients. For eg. if pulling out almonds for the dish, tell the child about its high levels of Vitamin E and the benefits. The child is more likely to remember this information presented casually in this manner rather than from a biology lesson in class.
- Use this time also to tell the child about sauteing, and blanching, making a child’s vocabulary and knowledge base so much richer. But remember, do not overdo the educating part, the idea is to have fun and the goal is the dish!
- Depending on the child’s age and motor skills give some task exclusively to the child. For eg. you can give the measuring cup to the child and let her sit with the jar of flour and carefully measure out the required amount into the smaller dish as you complete some other task. This gives the child a certain amount of freedom and responsibility while you are still around to make sure nothing goes wrong.
- Children can be given the task of whisking eggs or softening the butter. It is always a good idea to have an extra pair of hands while folding flour into the egg and sugar mixture for a cake. In case you are making cookies, give children exciting cutters to cut out shapes from the dough. In case you do not have those, get innovative, use the different sized steel katories and glasses at home.
- While you may not be able to allow the kid to do some tasks, repeat them loudly to yourself as you do them so that the child is learning by watching and listening both. For example, if you need to pre heat the oven, say so loudly - "While we add flour to this mixture, lets switch on the oven to preheat it at 220° C for fifteen minutes". Remember to follow yourself all the precautions that need to be taken if you want to teach them to your child.
- Remember, cleaning up is as important a part of cooking, as preparing is. Do not make it look like or feel like a chore. As your dish is cooking away in the oven, begin the clearing and cleaning activity with the kid being as much a part of it as earlier. Treat this aspect with as much respect and reverence. The child can help you put back the jars where they belong or wipe dry the whisker after you soaped and rinsed it. In case your child’s interest begins to wane, use motivational techniques to bring him/her back into the activity. But if you yourself treat this aspect in a dismissive manner, be sure the kid will too.
- The last but not the least part of the activity is the presentation. Teach the child the proper way to present the dish made. It could be icing and decorating a cake or garnishing the salad or a main dish.
- Finally present the dish at the table with pride and fanfare. Announcing and highlighting the child’s participation and contribution to the dish. Do not exaggerate or underrate the child’s contribution.
- There can be no hard and fast rules about which dish to make or what activity to give to the kid. Each person’s cooking area is different and eating habits vary. Children have a natural tendency of being interested in what grown- ups do, harness that. Instead of getting flustered by your child hanging around the kitchen, involve the child in some safe, uncomplicated task like shelling peas or grating carrots (for slightly older kids).
- On an average starting of kids in making dishes that use the oven are better than initially making them participate in things that involve cooking on a gas stove. in the holidays, baking a cake can be a most delightful experience. If your kid is too young to participate in the real baking, involve your child in decorating a cake. Some home-made butter chocolate icing on a chocolate sponge cake purchased from outside can also become a fun filled activity. Hand over a few packs of gems and sugar balls to the young gal and let her imagination work away!
- Blending fruit smoothies is another great idea for a parent child cooking escapade! It is also a great way to get children to see fruits and yogurt as fun foods!
- Making sandwiches together can be a great fun activity. Since the knives used are fairly blunt, there isn’t a safety hazard either. Experiment with new tastes and flavours, make a whole bunch of sandwiches and have a picnic in your own courtyard. Make a fun activity out of experimenting, tasting and arriving at a signature sandwich. Of course there will be some wastage and also some watery eyes with too much mustard and chillies some time, but the benefits in the form of pride of discovery and association far outweighs the drawbacks.
- If and when you make pizzas at home, customise by asking your kid to join in and put his favourite toppings himself on the pizza. Once a kid experiences any aspect of cooking, he will be less fussy and complaining if the dish is not cooked exactly as he wants it. With pizza bases and mozzarella cheese so readily available, home- made pizzas can be exciting and easy on the pocket. For those wanting toppings other than onions, tomatoes and mushrooms, a whole load of options like olives, jalapenos, sausages, salamis etc. are readily available.
- When children get interested in cooking, grocery and vegetable shopping also becomes so much more fun. They will no longer make faces and get bored as they hang around while you shop for staple foods. Instead a pack of baby corn on another shelf will now excite them as they can think of innovative toppings for their home-made pizza. You could also shop for some exciting salad recipes together. Instead of ‘eating the greens’ becoming a chore, developing more child friendly salad recipes can become a team task between your kid and you. The food bazaar is suddenly almost as exciting as Disneyland. Remember the wonder is in discovering!
Teaching your child to cook, irrespective of the gender, is one of the most valuable life skills you can impart to the child. We do not know where the child shall eventually be, which college, which job. If as a parent you can be satisfied that your child will not go hungry for the lack of not having someone to cook for him/her, you have one less thing to worry about. So while cooking with your kids can be fun and sensible in the present, shaping your child’s attitude towards cooking is a sound investment for the future too. And like everything else, it is good to start them young, by channelizing their natural interest and curiosity, rather than defer it to a task for the future. Also, what begins as baking does not have to be limited to baking, it can very easily move into making dosas or lachcha paranthas.
excellent article . gives a new perspective