In our previous posts on Children’s Nutrition and Healthy Eating Part I and Part II, we shared tips and strategies to encourage healthy eating habits in young children. Getting children involved in cooking is one of the best ways to develop a healthy, positive association with food. The first part of this topic will discuss the benefits of cooking with children and also some of the things that they learn through cooking.

Safety is the prime requisite with all cooking activities and children should never be allowed to go near hot stoves or hot cooking utensils. Likewise, children should not use sharp or dangerous knives or other unsafe items. Safety rules need to be explained and understood by children before any cooking activity.

The ideas and activities suggested in these posts are for children 3 years and older.

Benefits of cooking with children

  • Bonding and attachment that comes with working together closely to create something delicious.
  • Stimulation of all the senses - Around 95% of all learning that occurs in children between the ages of birth-to-three is through their senses.
  • Children are more likely to try new foods when they are involved in the preparation.
  • Positive interaction with adults and food during cooking helps to develop healthy eating habits.
  • Cooking not only helps children to understand about the world around them, but it also helps children to make links between different learning areas.

Learning through cooking

  • Science – Though young children may not yet be able to grasp all the scientific concepts, cooking is a great opportunity to ask questions, experiment, explore and learn. Some of the science concepts that can be experienced through cooking are:
    • Exploring the properties of ingredients such as smell, taste, texture, colour, temperature, size and shape.
    • Change of state (solids, liquids and gases) – What happens when water is boiled? What happens to chocolate and cheese when they are heated?
    • Chemical changes – When certain ingredients are mixed together, they act differently. What happens when baking powder is added to the cake mixture and then heated? How does milk turn into yoghurt? All of these examples are full of science learning.
  • Mathematics
    • Counting and adding ingredients
    • Division and fractions – For example, cutting a pizza or cake into slices, dividing dough into equal parts to make cookies.
    • Measurement – Weight, volume and capacity are introduced as we measure dry and wet ingredients
    • Time is an abstract concept that children take some time to grasp. But the concept of time is being introduced as we set the timer and wait for it to ring.
  • Health and body – Parents should model healthy eating habits and food choices as they prepare meals together with their children. Please check our previous post on ‘Children’s Nutrition and Healthy Eating’ for more information on this topic.
  • Learning about different cultures – Different countries and cultures use their own specific ingredients and spices. The use of utensils, mode of cooking, serving and eating vary from culture to culture. Try child-friendly recipes from different cultures.
  • Social and emotional development – Giving children age-appropriate responsibilities help develop self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment and builds self-esteem. Cooking together also teaches children to share and take turns.
  • Language and Literacy
    • Reading and/or writing down the recipe, making a list of ingredients and shopping for them are a great opportunity to introduce new words. For young children it will be a good idea to represent words with pictures. If children can construct menus with parents and then be involved in shopping for the ingredients then much learning will occur.
    • Cutting, slicing, blending, freezing, frying, stirring are some of the verbs that are specific to cooking.
    • Communication skills are improved as children learn to follow step-by-step instructions
  • Creativity – Cooking is a creative process that includes the right mix of ingredients and flavours. Presenting the food in an appealing manner and setting the table is a skill that can be learned.
  • Failures – Sometimes things do not work out as planned and the end product is far from what you expected. When that dish gets burnt or the cake does not rise, children learn from you that it is ok to fail and how to get over disappointments by learning from mistakes and trying again. They also learn that practice make skills perfect.

Concluding comments

Cooking helps children to develop a positive relationship with parents and with food which is necessary for the health and well-being of a child. Children feel important when parents involve them in the kitchen. Remember to relax and have fun with your child but above all implement safety procedures.

Part II of this topic to be released on the parent portal will provide information on the safety aspects to be taken into consideration when involving children in the kitchen.  Also, lookout for the list of child-friendly recipes!

Copyright © Marjory Ebbeck and Sheela Warrier 2017

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