Cooking with kids

Turn the dull days of winter into fantastic family time and teach lifelong health skills.

During the colder winter months with more indoor time with your kids, you may hear the phrase all parents hear from their children, “I’m bored.” When outdoor activities become less realistic, Michigan State University Extension recommends you take the opportunity to bring your kids into the kitchen for some new, fun cooking activities that will benefit them for a lifetime.

My 9-year-old daughter has always liked being in the kitchen and helping out, but recently it has gone to a new level of interest, with recipes, cooking, baking and meal planning. At the upper elementary grade level, kids can search for recipes in cookbooks or online, help search the pantry and cupboards for ingredients and then make a grocery list for needed items. Talking with your child about the recipes they find and how they fit in with the food groups on MyPlate can be a great way to teach nutrition to kids and help them think about preparing healthy, balanced meals. Measuring ingredients and preparing a grocery shopping list for recipe ingredients are all tasks that help your child learn about health and nutrition, basic cooking skills, meal planning and budgeting. Giving kids a calculator while shopping and having them add the cost of the items can help them begin to understand about budgeting and food costs.

Cooking with kids can be used to teach healthy eating and nutrition, as well as math and science concepts. No matter what their age level, a critical area to focus on with kids when cooking is the importance of proper hand washing before preparing food and during the food preparation process. All food preparers, no matter what the age need to pay close attention to proper hand washing practices before preparing food. Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds before handling food. Teach your children to sing the ABC song to be sure they are washing long enough to kill germs. Remind kids to wash their hands as often as necessary during food prep if they become contaminated during the process. Only washing hands before beginning the food prep is probably not enough.

When cooking with children it is important to remember to find tasks that are age appropriate for their skill level. What jobs can kids do to help in the kitchen? Here are a few ideas:

  • Find new recipes to try
  • Create a grocery shopping list
  • Learn how to properly wash hands for food prep
  • Clean and prepare the food prep area for cooking
  • Organize recipe ingredients
  • Measure dry ingredients
  • Measure liquid ingredients
  • Stir batters
  • Roll out dough
  • Set the table
  • Help clean up the food preparation area
  • Wash the dishes

Cooking with kids is a wonderful way to spend time together as a family, help spark your child’s interest in new foods and develop family memories that can last for years to come. Every recipe might not turn out perfect, but the enjoyment of watching your kids learn new skills and spending time together will make it very worthwhile.

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