Bringing kids into the kitchen can benefit them in a number of ways.
Build basic skills.
You can help your child hone basic math skills by doing something as simple as counting eggs or pouring water into a measuring cup. You can ask what comes first, second, and third or count together as you spoon dough onto a cookie sheet. When you read a recipe together, you're introducing new words to your child's vocabulary and promoting literacy. Following steps in the recipe can work on listening skills.
Encourage an adventurous palate.
Preschoolers are notoriously picky eaters, and bringing them into the kitchen to cook can help get them to open up to new tastes. When your 3-year-old daughter plays chef she might sample dishes she wouldn't try if you just served them to her. So encourage kids to taste new ingredients you're working with and talk about what they like and how healthy foods make a body grow.
Help young kids explore with their senses.
Kids learn by exploring with their senses and the kitchen is an ideal place to do that. Invite them to listen to the whir of the mixer, pound dough and watch it rise, smell it baking in the oven, and finally taste the warm bread fresh from the oven. If it smells good, looks appealing, and is easy to eat they may just be willing to try it!
Preschoolers love to show what they can do and working in the kitchen
provides opportunities to gain a sense of accomplishment. If they helped assemble the pizza, let them know that their help was important. You could name the pizza or another dish after your child. Serve "Will's Pizza" or "Ella's Salad" for dinner tonight. Even if the end results are not exactly what you expected, praise their efforts.
Cooking teaches kids about eating well.
Kids are usually receptive to conversations about nutrition. Planning a menu can become an opportunity to explain smart food choices. Take the time to discuss the different food groups and encourage your kids to experiment with foods they might not otherwise try. Kids who have a hand in making the vegetables might be a little more willing to sample them at the table.
Sharing food means sharing memories and good conversation.
Grandma's secret zucchini bread recipe can be your chance to pass on a little bit of family lore. Did you love peanut butter and banana sandwiches when you were 7? Tell your child about the kind of foods you liked as a kid. The kitchen is also a place to ask thought-provoking questions like: To make a really colorful dinner, which foods would you include?
Cooking can also foster responsibility.
Kids start out learning to follow recipe directions and then they learn to clean up after themselves when the project is completed. Learning how to safely handle kitchen equipment is an important part of learning to cook. Kids need safety reminders and help with following the steps in a recipe, but they can learn to clean up spills as they happen and to put things back where they belong.
Your kitchen is a learning lab.
As kids learn to crack eggs and stir sauce, they also gain new science, language, and math skills. Basic math skills ("are we putting in more salt or baking soda?") and sequencing skills ("what is first…next…last?") give way to fractions ("is this ¾ of a cup?") as your child gains confidence in the kitchen. Reading recipes can improve reading comprehension, and something as simple as salt sprinkled on an ice cube demonstrates basic science principles.
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