When my firstborn began toddling around the kitchen and climbing into the cabinets, I thought we were both ready to begin making memories “cooking together”. I was eager to give him the same experiences I had as a young child, working alongside my mom. Amidst the puffs of flour wafting through the air, the egg white making a trail down my cabinets, and the extra generous sized tablespoon of baking powder that threatened to send the concoction straight to the trash, I had to pause and ask myself, “Why?” Why were those memories so important to me? Was all that mess worth it? Should I give my child that experience?
I realized that I wanted my child’s memories to be of me, not noticing the mess, but noticing his curiosity; not correcting him, but allowing him to learn from his mistakes; not sighing over the extra work but laughing over things that sometimes, just happen; of slowing down just enough to enjoy the process, instead of fixating on the product.
Even if you did not grow up with these experiences, it’s never too late to create them for your child! Here’s why it’s worth making a part of your family routine:
- Connections are formed and memories made in the kitchen
- Skills are acquired in the kitchen
- Academics are fostered in the kitchen (measurements are math, after all!)
- A broad palate and nutrition awareness is fostered in the kitchen
Benefits of Kids in the Kitchen
Connections & Memories
Around the world, food plays a central role in the community and the family. My childhood memories include fond memories of gathering around the table to eat a meal together, and often, it was many hands working together that made the meal even more enjoyable. People also associate certain scents with memories–perhaps the smell of cinnamon rolls reminds you of opening gifts on Christmas morning, or the smell of apple pie reminds you of Grandma’s house at Thanksgiving. Time in the kitchen invokes positive memories associated with scents, tastes and experiences, and when you share these memories, it forges connections between you, your child and the previous generation.
What if those connections are just waiting to be made with your child? Is there an evening once a week, or perhaps a breakfast on the weekend, where you can slow down and invite your child into your life? They are in awe when a loved one says, “Come into my world. I want you in it! I want your help! You are important to me! I want to spend time with you!” The kitchen can be one such place. It also has the bonus of (usually) being screen-free, allowing you to work alongside each other while meeting each other’s eyes, and hearing one another without the interference of the TV.
Not only do children acquire the life skills of cooking and baking, but they also experience a wide variety of other benefits, including:
- Developing motor skills
- Developing concentration
- Following complex steps
- Following instructions
- Giving instructions
- Developing patience
- Developing independence
- Develops confidence
- Develops creativity
- Therapeutic benefits
- Pure enjoyment
Math is a huge part of cooking! Measuring cups, teaspoons and scales teach fractions and volume, while following recipes also teaches sequencing. Doubling or halving recipes requires them to add or subtract. Setting a timer can help them understand the passage of time. They can become familiar with reading a thermometer and can sense firsthand what varying temperatures look and feel like.
Children get to observe science at work as they explore how the interaction of different elements, as well as fluctuations in temperature, have different results! We LOVE science in the kitchen at Sonnet Montessori, and some of our amazing summer camps have focused on this theme! What makes Jello, well, gel? What makes bread rise? How do we get butter from cream? Where do meringues come from?
Language is developed in the kitchen, both in conversation, as the adult provides the child with specific vocabulary, such as “simmer,” “boil,” “steam,” and “whip”. As our children spend time baking or cooking, our children acquire specific names for different scents, sights, sounds and reactions.
You can encourage language acquisition by asking questions, such as:
- “How would you describe the food?”
- “What does it smell like?”
- “Have you had anything like this before?”
- “What do you think it tastes like?”
- “What do they feel like?”
- “Can you name these?”
- “How many are there?”
- “Can you get the bowl from the lower right side of the cabinet?”
As your child grows, they can practice their reading and comprehension as they follow written recipes and can also practice oral narration as they describe how to make a cake, or as they repeat back instructions to you.
Broad Palate & Nutritional Awareness
Researchers say that children who spend time in the kitchen tend to have a broader palate than their peers, perhaps because they are more willing to try what they contributed towards. Learning about the nutritional benefits of different food is also important for children in equipping them to make healthy choices. The NHSA strongly recommends children’s involvement in food preparation, and their research shows that preschool-aged children who are involved in cooking “enjoy food more, refuse food less, are more interested in trying foods, eat a wider variety of foods, and look forward to mealtimes more” than their peers who are not involved in cooking. Source.
Age-Appropriate Kitchen Activities
Your child’s developmental stage will determine how they can help, but you don’t have to wait until they are “older” to allow them to contribute.
A disclaimer: Always teach safety around potentially dangerous items like sharp objects, hot surfaces (gas and electric stoves, ovens, etc.) and food (including stove tops, hot or boiling liquids and solids), steam, gas stoves, and appliances (like mixers and blenders) and always provide appropriate supervision. Turn pot and pan handles towards the back of the stove. Keep hot liquids and foods away from the edges of counters and tables. Teach your children to always ask and gain permission before cooking or baking.
- Set up a play pen in the kitchen and while you cook, narrate what you are doing and converse with your baby! When they can sit without support, pull their highchair into the kitchen! (If you are working with potentially dangerous items, avoid leaving your baby free to crawl around while you are in the kitchen, as it could be a tripping hazard for you.)
- As babies become mobile, they may enjoy playing with kitchen utensils while you cook – give them a spoon and a pot and allow them to “cook”!
- With supervision, your older baby can explore tastes and textures in the kitchen: whipped cream, banana, yogurt, soft vegetables, rice, small cooked pasta, etc. (Follow your pediatrician’s advice when it comes to which foods your child can eat and at what age.)
- With supervision, you can give your baby a shallow bowl of water and a spoon to play with.
Talk to your toddler while you are cooking, identifying objects and narrating what you are doing. Your toddler can also participate by:
- Stirring ingredients together
- Pouring premeasured ingredients
- Helping “wash” dishes (with a little post-wash assistance from Mom or Dad!)
- Helping sweep up the floor
- Wiping tables or counter tops
- Washing fruits and vegetables in a bowl of water or a colander
Depending on their stage of development, can do all of the above plus:
- Chopping soft fruits and vegetables
- Peeling some vegetables
- Measuring out ingredients
- Rolling bread dough or cookie dough into balls
- Pouring and flipping pancakes, with adult supervision
- Rolling out dough with a rolling pin
- Assembling ingredients for pizza
- Reading instructions
- Mashing potatoes or bananas
- Spooning batter into a muffin tin or cake pan
- Kneading dough
- Using cookie cutters
- Grating cheese or carrots
- Zesting limes/lemons
- Cracking eggs
- Assisting with grocery shopping
- Reading instructions on a recipe
- Using a mortar and pestle or a hand grinder to grind spices, pestos, etc.
Looking for some easy recipes to start off with? Try one of these!
No Bake Cookies (Peanut-Free, Gluten-Free) from Gluten Free on a Shoestring
2-Ingredient Quick Bread from Jo Cooks
Swedish Pancakes from Lil Luna
Pizza Bagels or English Muffin Pizzas from Well Plated
Banana Pancakes from Once Upon a Chef
Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets from Kitchen at Hoskins