During my kids’ toddler years, I had a new 15-year-old babysitter watch them for an evening. I left out pasta, a jar of red sauce and some already cooked veggies for dinner. Simple, right? When I came home, I found a messy kitchen, and on the stove sat a pot of water with pasta still floating in it (the messy kitchen is for a different non-Sozo blog entirely). I remember thinking, does this 15-year-old know how to use a colander? Has she ever made pasta before? My children were fast asleep and alive so that was a win. She didn’t know it, of course, but that sitter who couldn’t make pasta gave me the incentive to encourage my kids to help in the kitchen.
When my kids were small, they loved to help cook and to bake. Some days I invited them to “help” despite knowing that their assistance would delay dinnertime by at least 30 minutes. After all, it takes a 4-year-old about 5 minutes to peel a single carrot and the peelings end up on the floor and when they are done there is only half a carrot left because they took a few bites (as an aside, it is actually really good to nibble on raw veggies while you cook – raw and cooked vegetables have different benefits so snacking on them as you cook is a great habit to have).
Other days I let the kids watch TV while I cooked. Sometimes those TV days were needed – I just had to get dinner done and on the table. But on those days, I recognized that the downside of them watching TV wasn’t more screen time, but rather it was all the awesome learning they were missing out on by not being in the kitchen with me. The kids’ time in the kitchen was an investment and while we still had TV days, it was the exception, not the rule.
Over the years though, their “help” has evolved into actual help. They are now my sous chefs and meal preppers and more and more often they are taking over the role of head chef or baker. My kids know their way around a kitchen. I can give any of them a baking recipe and they know what to do and I have no doubt they can feed themselves if left on their own. My “investment” has paid off!
My List of Things Kids Learn When Working in the Kitchen:
- All the random little things you teach them – The avocado is ripe when the stem peels off easily and it is green underneath. This is an easy way to cut a mango. Did you know that carrots are good for your eyes? They have a vitamin that helps you see!
- How to make a balanced meal – What things make a healthy plate? Look at that label, does it have a lot of sugar in there? What food has protein?
- How to be capable adults – “Hey kids. Daddy and I have a date night! Make yourself some dinner and make sure you have a balanced meal!” (Okay so I never have actually said “make a balanced meal,” but hey.)
- Math – in our house we do a lot of doubling or tripling recipes. What is 2/3rds cup + 2/3rds of a cup?
- Reading comprehension – You must read the recipe, follow instructions and figure out what it is asking in order to make good muffins.
- Substitutions – my kids are well versed in using chia eggs instead of eggs, whole wheat flour instead of white, maple syrup instead of sugar etc.
- To take pride in something that they have made – This is huge. They recognize that they are capable.
- That it is ok to mess up and try again – sometimes something goes wrong that you have spent a lot of time on. It is ok. We will try again.
- That it is a good time to talk with their parents – this can be an excellent time to talk about life in general “mom, there is this kid at school who….”
My Kids’ List of Things They Learned Working in the Kitchen
*Their ideas were endless and all based on experience (I have had flat cookies, very salty bread and many, many pancakes that taste like baking soda – sometimes kids each make the same mistake on separate occasions.)
- To measure dry ingredients by using a knife to scrape the top
- How to follow instructions and review our work
- Math – especially division, multiplication, fractions (SO many fractions -what is ⅔+⅔)
- Teamwork and sharing
- How to cut an onion, bell peppers, leeks
- How to tell if something we have made is done
- Baking powder is not the same as baking soda and 1 tsp of salt is definitely not the same as 1 cup of salt
- If you are making banana bread don’t forget the bananas (make sure not to miss ingredients in general)
- Don’t wipe down a counter with flour on it with a wet paper towel
- Use the rubber girl (rubber spatula) to get ingredients out of the measuring cup like peanut butter, maple syrup or honey
- The mandolin is the most fun way to chop veggies
So for all of you with little kids or with grandkids, bring them into the kitchen with you and teach them to cook and along the way they will learn life lessons. It is worth the investment!
Check out one of Micah’s most recent recipes Healthy Carrot Cake Muffins (cupcakes?)