Cooking with Kids

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cooking with kidsMany people ask me about ways kids can help out with cooking. There are many ways they can help once you demonstrate how to do what you’re asking. Remember, young kids, don’t have the life experience to know how gravity works or why pouring from high up causes the stuff they’re pouring to not make it into the bowl. It’s important to explain WHY we do things a certain way. The only reason we know that is from experience! We have seen evidence of this happening, and we know what will happen because of our prior experience. Kids are new to this world and lack that knowledge, making kids so excited about finding out how things work!⠀

1. Find the Right Time: You know that most activities don’t go well if your little chef is hungry, tired, or overstimulated. It’s best to find a quiet time when you are hurrying to get a meal on the table. It could be when your kids get home from school, or a weekend morning or an evening. You know your gang best. If they ask if they can help you make dinner, you can give them a simple task that doesn’t require sharp objects or your focus. Also, you can tell them that it isn’t a good time right now.

2. Washing Foods: This is something that most kids enjoy and a task I like to give those kids who like to explore different textures with their hands. It’s great for the preschool crowd! Give them a non-breakable bowl and some potatoes, mushrooms, carrots – whatever you have and ask them to “give them a bath.” Then, give them a towel to dry them. It’s helpful, and it’s entertaining for them. Just make sure there’s not too much water in the bowl because it will likely spill if it’s too full.

3. Using a Knife: When you’re teaching them how to cut fruits or veggies, the first thing is to use kid-safe knives and show them the right side to use to cut – the side with the ridges. This may seem obvious, but it’s something they don’t know from experience. Show them how to hold onto the item they’re cutting and move the knife’s blade back and forth like a saw. I usually repeat “cut and cut and cut” to give the younger kids the idea. Some kids don’t like touching the item they’re cutting, and you can give them a small towel to hold it, so they don’t have to feel it. Start with softer foods like cheese, cucumbers, melon, strawberries, etc. 

4. Measuring: We know from experience that the measuring cup has to be filled all the way for the recipe to come outright. But kids don’t know this. Explain that the cup has to be filled up all the way to avoid the recipe “uh ohs!” Another good tip is to have a different bowl to measure their food into that isn’t mixed with the other ingredients. This way, you can make sure the right amount goes into the recipe!

5. Peeling: Many parents are nervous about handing their child a peeler because it’s sharp. But as long as they don’t touch the metal blade, even a 3- year old can peel a long straight vegetable. I tell the kids to “push it away, push it away” to reinforce that they should always peel away from their bodies. Tell them to turn the vegetable every time they peel, so they are only peeling the outside. Sometimes with our more enthusiastic chefs, they end up peeling the whole thing, and you have nothing left but ribbons! Stick to carrots, cucumbers, and zucchinis, and try to avoid round foods like potatoes and apples until you feel confident in their peeling skills.

Another key to success is to make sure that you have the dedicated time to let them help. They don’t have to help you with everything – there are “mommy tasks” and “kid tasks,” and it’s okay for you to explain this if they express interest in doing something like taking a turkey out of the oven or using a food processor. Small steps. Kids really want to be involved, and you’d be surprised about what they consider “cooking.” It could be something like spreading jelly on a piece of bread or mixing a bowl. That’s cooking to them, and they want to be a part of the important job of providing food for the family. Start small and set boundaries. You’ll be amazed at how interested they become in eating whatever they prepared! 

Now, let’s get our children cooking!

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Ina is a Registered Dietitian with a Bachelors of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics from New York University and a Masters of Science in Nutrition Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is also a Certified Dietitian Nutritionist as recognized by the State of New York Education Department and holds a New York Department of Health Certificate in Food Protection. As a Mom and Registered Dietitian, Ina is passionate about good food and healthy living. Her philosophy on nutrition is science-based yet open and fun. Visit Ina at http:// www.square-plate.com