My wonderful husband and daughter are in the kitchen creating some kind of culinary magic and no doubt, a wonderful father-daughter memory. If you were in the room you could absolutely feel the pride and anticipation in all three of us. My daughter has been working in the kitchen since she was old enough to sit at the table and dump premeasured ingredients in a bowl. At 3 ½ she is cracking eggs and pouring milk. Just about any time someone is cooking she feels it is her duty to join and help. That kitchen is as much hers and it is mine as far as she’s concerned. As a parent, it makes me smile to think of all the things she’s learning at my (or my husband’s) side.
Here’s a short list of wonderful lessons to be learned in the kitchen:
Cooking together is great exposure to foods that we’d like our children to eat. Whether it’s helping chop veggies for a salad or mashing bananas for bread, this is an opportunity for exposure that your kids may find nonthreatening. And you might be surprised how many foods your child might try in these easy going moments.
Preparing food together is a perfect time to discuss the contributions that each member makes to your family. It’s also a time to ask your child what else they think they’re ready to help with. There is great pride in knowing that you are needed in your family.
Fine motor skills can be honed in the kitchen. Avocados, bananas, and other soft fruits and veggies are a toddler’s opportunity to practice using a butter knife or plastic party knife to cut food. Nut butters are another food that can be easily spread on bread. Look for other ways to encourage fine motor with a whisk, measuring cup or even cracking an egg.
A multitude of math concepts are introduced in the kitchen. A quarter cup of this and a half a cup of that is the language of math, and holding different sized measuring cups and scooping ingredients give meaning to that language. There’s opportunity to practice counting when you ask your son to give you two eggs or three carrots. One-to-one correspondence is learned when you ask your daughter to put one cupcake liner in each hole of the cupcake pan. Sequences are also learned during cooking as you use words like first, next, finally, etc.
Time spent in the kitchen is a great time to learn about dealing with disappointment. I realize this seems a bit heavy for toddlers and preschoolers and believe me, it is. No one wants to be let down but there’s no better time to learn the art of looking on the bright side. Remind your kids that they can be proud they worked hard, worked as a team, had fun chopping and stirring, enjoyed feeling the wet batter, etc. You can also talk about feeling disappointed or frustrated and even brainstorm solutions to the situation. Questions like “Can we do anything to fix it?” “What could we do next time to make it taste better?” can give your child comfort that a failure in the kitchen doesn’t mean he shouldn’t try again another day.
As an early child development specialist, I love the idea of being in the kitchen with our kids for a number of reasons–there may even need to be a part 2 to complete the list of reasons! I do hope, though, one of them persuades you to get in there, dust off an old cookbook (or jump on Pinterest) and invite your children to join you. I’m not saying there won’t be a mess to clean or even a lopsided cake to show for it, but I am saying it’ll be worth it.
Recommended kitchen products for your budding chef: