Cooking with Kids

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

The Process of Cooking:

Children are never too young to cook! In fact, it's important to learn early on that our food is not just "over the counter." Time, patience, work, and love are needed to turn crops into a meal at the table. Cooking with crops from the garden like kale, tomatoes, basil, oregano, eggplant, etc, allows children to see the process of farming from soil to table. In combination with lessons about seasonal eating, they may begin feeling more connected with their ecosystems, rhythms of the earth, and within their own bodies.

Children are capable beings. Even little ones are able to cut and cook, learning to create their meals instead of expecting them. Of course, don’t give a three year old the biggest knife in the kitchen; start with a small knife with a rounded blade or kids scissors, sit with them and help guide their fingers to cut soft greens like spinach, kale, and swiss chard. If they seem to be doing well, have them try cutting something harder like an apple, carrot, or cauliflower. If they cut themselves, put a band-aid on and try again. A pain point is many times a catalyst to behavior change. Adults still cut themselves sometimes while cooking; it hurts a little, but it isn’t dangerous. It’s a learning opportunity. 

After food is prepared, bring children to the stove and have them cook it! Allow them to explore all parts of creating a meal and feeding themselves. Give them a wooden spoon to stir the pot or veggies in the frying pan. Ask, “what do you think will happen to the food when it’s heated?”. Warn them that it is hot, advise them to keep their arms away from the edges of the pots and pans, and then let them experientially live life. Have them measure out and mix in salt, pepper, and other spices. If they put in too much or spill it, don’t get mad! So what if the food is a little salty or spicy. The important part is the process, not the outcome. They will get there with patience and practice. Allow them to serve themselves out of the bowl, or even just to spread almond butter and jam on toast. So what if things get a little messy! Creativity is messy. Never shame a child’s creative process; allow it to unfold, and just clean everything up at the end.

One of the best ways to strengthen relationships is over food; slowly, intentionally, in community, and with gratitude. Once the meal is complete, sit down at a table together, express thanks for friends and family who made the food, and join together in eating. 

If you use it, re-use it. Avoid using single use paper/plastic plates, utensils, and napkins. Even hard plastic plates and bowls carry harmful microplastics that can be ingested. Ceramic, glass, and wood are all safe options, and reusable napkins are better for the environment and look nicer than paper towels or paper napkins.

Once bellies are full, place dirty dishes in the sink or buckets where they are responsible for cleaning their own dishes. Children are able to carry their plates. They are able to be responsible for their own dishes and cleaning. Establishing healthy habits in formative years is vital so that in the future, cleanliness and responsibility simply become second nature without thought.

Learning how to feed oneself is an important life skill that is all too often not learned until later in life. I don’t know why it isn’t a part of mainstream curriculum! The only cooking experience I had growing up was at home and as an elective in high school. It can be a sentimental bonding experience and creative process, as well as address developmental goals below. So slow down, practice patience with little ones, enjoy the process, and happy cooking!

Learning Goals (0-5 years old):

  • Children become increasingly able to identify unsafe situations and gradually learn strategies for responding to them.

  • Eating with utensils and cups, eating independently

  • Help with mealtime routines, such as setting a table

  • Help in preparing snacks and meals

  • Gross and fine motor development of large and small muscle groups (stirring, mixing, pouring, grasping, kneading, rolling, precision in spreading and measurements, etc.)

  • Engaging in positive relationships

  • Taking turns and sharing materials

  • Trying new things

  • Follow one step (2 years), two step (3 years), or multi step (5 years) instructions

  • Reading & literacy development in reading simple ingredients and directions

  • Exploring and understanding cause and effect

  • Know where things are kept in an environment and able to retrieve them

  • Focus on tasks despite distractions

  • Increase amount of time focusing on an activity

  • Number and quantity recognition

  • Using numbers to compare quantities

  • Understand that a entire set of objects is more than its parts when the set is divided into smaller bits

  • Using tools to measure

  • Measuring volume

  • Using and understanding the words “more” or “less”

  • Making predictions

  • Exploring characteristics of objects

  • Understanding concept and passage of time

  • Self control, waiting, self-regulation

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