You’ve just rolled out of bed, snood and robe firmly in place. You’re assembling breakfast while listening to the beautiful drip-drip of the coffee pot preparing a hot and delicious liquid hug for you. Your exuberant two-year old drags a chair to the counter top, and says, “I help you!”
Have you noticed that parenthood can often seem like a series of “no”s? Because of schedules, safety, and financial concerns, we end up saying it so often.
So where food is concerned, the best idea is to form safe boundaries, and then put yourself in a position to say “yes.”
Beyond the Kitchen
Cooking with children is definitely not an effective way to get an Instagram-worthy meal on the table, but there are actually many benefits to cooking with kids, all of which result in increased confidence. This super-charged inner strength affects children inside as well as outside of the kitchen, boosting confidence at school and in social situations, setting them up for success in many areas of life.
Cooking with your children is valuable bonding time, time when you’re not checking your phone, but instead putting your hand over her little hand as she chops carrots or measures and pours water. As you help your child with these actions, you help increase vocabulary – what color is this fruit? Where was this vegetable grown? What does it sound like when you bite it?
For the 18-month old child who enjoys turning on the blender or hitting buttons on the food processor, cooking can help develop both gross and fine motor skills. Measuring can be the first math lesson, and ingredient reactions the first exposure to chemistry. Reading the container of milk might be valuable practice with early literacy. Trying recipes from other areas of the world can help grow an awareness of and appreciation for different cultures and backgrounds.
Cooking can be relaxing for very active kids as the one on one attention, when combined with the physical actions of stirring, measuring, and getting their little hands in some sticky dough encourage focus and concentration.
How to Start
Children are developmentally ready for different cooking tasks at different times, so it’s best to let your child lead the way. If something doesn’t work out – if the child is obviously frustrated or shows a lack of interest – table that skill and come back to it in a month or so.
Children can begin basic tasks in the kitchen, such as turning appliances on and off, as early as 18 months. By including children in these basic activities, you also get the benefit of sound exposure.
As the child grows, new and developing skills can include stirring, measuring, scooping, and spreading. By the time the child is two he or she is ready for appropriately supervised peeling, chopping, and even cracking eggs!
Try to take a supporting role while your child goes for the chocolate muffin Emmy Award. Yes, it’s a mess. Yes, your muffins may be tunneled from over-mixing. But the smile on her face and the sense of accomplishment won makes it all worth the effort. And the mess.
And, looking forward, a child who cooks with his parents is less likely to be the yeshiva student living off convenience items. He may actually be that guy who will cook for others in the dorm kitchen – and maybe he’ll even make a bit of profit from his skills!
Will They Eat It?
Will your child eat the beautiful mess they create? Well I can’t promise that.
While cooking together and eating together do tend to increase a child’s willingness to be adventurous around food, as I always say at Toddler Test Kitchen, “It’s all about the smile, not the bite.”
Enjoy the process and measure success in laughter!
Yaffi Lvova, RDN is an experienced Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (follow this link to read why nutrition credentials are essential) and a proud mom of twins plus one. She created Toddler Test Kitchen as a way to introduce children to unfamiliar foods in a safe way—a way that builds confidence and self-reliance, while spending quality time with parents. As the owner of Baby Bloom Nutrition, she works with pregnant women and new parents to increase their nutritional confidence and help smooth the transition into parenthood. Yaffi’s live Facebook show, Nap Time Nutrition, covers nutrition and parenthood obstacles every Tuesday at 1:15 AZ (4:15pm EDT, 3:15pm EST). Her extensive video archive can be found at naptimenutrition.com. Yaffi is available for public speaking and workshops, both virtual and in person. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.