Youth learn science in the kitchen

Spark your child’s interest in science by including simple science lessons in daily food preparation.

Children have an enormous curiosity and delight in discovery. They are exploring life and seem to have an endless repertoire of questions. Why not keep this enthusiasm and curiosity alive and stimulated by including simple science lessons in your daily activities? Children will also gain important life skills, such as critical thinking, decision making and problem solving.

Science is not just for scientists. It is all around us in everyday life – it does not have to be scary. Simple science lessons can easily be included in everyday activities.

As the days get shorter, we are spending more time indoors preparing and baking for the holidays. Discover with your child the science behind cooking and baking. Explore what is happening when baking bread. Help your child find out what yeast is and what it does during the bread baking process. Experiment and bake two loaves of bread; one using yeast, the other using no yeast. What is happening? Compare the two loaves.

When cooking, we are using a variety of herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of the food. While cooking is mostly seen an art, there is a lot of science behind cooking as well. Have your child identify the herbs and spices in your kitchen and find out where they come from on a spice map. Or, have the child find out what characteristic blends of spices are being used in specific regions of the world and what flavor these spices have.

Help your child make a cup of hot chocolate as the Spanish learned from the Mayans in the 16th century using cinnamon, vanilla extract or bean, dried chili, unsweetened chocolate, sugar (optional) and milk. Have her experiment with different amounts of spices, or omitting one.

Have your child season his own dish of food. Did something become too bitter tasting? Discover with your child how salt can easily mellow down bitter tastes. Here is a simple activity that demonstrates how to tone down bitter flavor. Have your child fill 4 glasses with tonic water with quinine (available at grocery stores). Be sure to put the same amount of tonic water (4 ounces) in each glass. Add no salt to the first glass, a pinch of salt to second glass, half a teaspoon of salt to third glass, and one teaspoon of salt to the fourth glass. Now have your child take a sip from each glass and compare the flavors. Which amount of salt hid the bitter quinine flavor best? To add simple math lessons, have your child convert the amount of ounces of tonic water in each glass into cups, or into milliliters.

You can also introduce your child to the science of artificial flavorings. As Michigan apples are scarce and expensive this year, make an inexpensive mock apple pie that tastes like real apple pie, but no apples are being used. The apple flavor is cleverly imitated by using a combination of sugar, cream of tartar, lemon juice, lemon zest and cinnamon.

A simple science lesson can easily be included into any type of food preparation. You don’t have to be a scientist to spark your child’s interest in science.

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