Cooking with kids can be a fun way to introduce healthy eating habits in their future. These 10 tips will make it a terrific experience for everyone!
It’s funny how a simple conversation with friends while picking up kids at school led to such a huge and totally fun project for me. I was discussing summer plans and camps for my kids, comparing camps and prices with two moms. There’s theater camp and volleyball camp and countless other possibilities available. I mentioned that I saw a cooking camp, but thought it was silly for me pay someone else to teach my almost 10-year old daughter to cook.
“I could do that myself!” I proclaimed.
One of my friends chimed in, “I’d rather have you teach my daughter, too!”
I laughed it off and saw two pairs of very serious eyes looking right back at me. Both of my friends reassured me that they were totally serious. Would I hold a cooking camp for the girls in my house?
“Why not?” I answered.
Fast forward a few months… Last week I held my cooking camp with 7 10-year old girls, including my own girl. What a treat!
I believe that learning how to cook is one of those FUNDAMENTAL life lessons that has been long forgotten. With America’s obesity rate still high and with food allergies on the rise, we need to cut our dependency on quick, processed foods. And the best way to do that, is to offer delicious meals that we can cook ourselves.
As I told the kids during camp, you should cook your own meals so that you know exactly what is going inside your body. I talked nutrition, produce, ingredients and even careers in food with these girls. And they soaked everything in.
And now, here are my top 10 tips on cooking with kids:
1. KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid!
When you are starting off with those first lessons in the kitchen, you don’t want your child to get super frustrated when first at bat. Start with simple tasks and simple recipes. As they get more comfortable in the kitchen and more confident using sharp utensils, you can increase the level of complexity with their responsibilities and the recipes you make. This is the case no matter what age your child is. Kneading dough or mixing ground meat or stirring soup are simple tasks for the newbie. Teenagers especially have their “brain dead” moments (or at least mine, do!) so don’t have them man a hot stove if their head is stuck in the clouds.
2. Use Fresh Produce.
This is a no brainer, but if you always keep fresh fruits and vegetables in your kitchen, odds are your child will learn to love them in their meals. Every dish you make can incorporate a fresh fruit or vegetable. Even simple mashed potatoes can be livened up with the addition of sweet potatoes or kale. Your child’s taste buds do evolve and mature over time. So even if they don’t like something at one point in time, keep introducing the veggies. Eventually, they will love that broccoli and cauliflower.
3. Keep it Colorful.
Naturally! I am a big advocate on serving up a colorful meal. If your child likes carrots, introduce purple and yellow carrots to the mix. My kids couldn’t believe that carrots came in such beautiful hues. Remember, these colorful fruits and vegetables are full of the vitamins, antioxidants and nutrients we all need. Fight the bland, beige meals and bring some color to the plate. It also makes meal prep more fun! Which brings us to…
4. Make it Fun.
And by fun, it doesn’t mean happy face eggs or animal shaped treats. Laugh and smile and enjoy the process. Most of the time, my kids see me frantically trying to get dinner prepared. I tend to balance these moments in between homework questions and interrupted conversations with my husband. My family usually sees me a bit stressed, frazzled and grumpy while cooking. I’m sure I am not the only one guilty of this! Show your kids that cooking can also be a fun process, and not always stressful. Keep it a positive experience and they won’t have an aversion to being in the kitchen. And perhaps your attitude will change, too, about cooking??!!!
5. Teach the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ While You Cook.
Cooking isn’t just about following a recipe. Meal planning goes beyond that. Why do we need a balanced meal? Why are vegetables important to eat everyday? Why do we need a protein (vegetable or animal) with every meal? Sneak in some facts and education while you prepare the meal. Why do you peel potatoes for mashed potatoes? Why do onions make you cry? Why do apples turn brown after you cut them open? How do you measure a cup of flour versus a cup of brown sugar? Kids are sponges, and amazingly they do a lot of the things we tell them.
6. Introduce Something New.
We have a rule in our house. You have to try it before you tell us you don’t like it. If you have a child who has a limited menu preference, this tip is really important. And just because they didn’t like it 6 months ago, doesn’t mean they will always hate that food. Keep introducing the new food to your child. It’s a terrific way to turn your child on to a new food. This rule is good for any picky adults in the midst, too! This doesn’t have to be anything big or complicated. For example, let’s say you are making a kid favorite meal, like pizza, offer a new item for their pizza topping. Variety is the spice of life, and there is plenty of variety out there in the foodie world!
7. Don’t Expect Perfection.
Okay, I am so guilty of this. Many times I shuffle my kids out of the kitchen because it’s faster, easier and better if I do it all by myself. But after a few months (or years!) of doing this, your kids will no longer ask to help you. They will expect every meal to come from you. So when you are cooking with kids, remember that the veggies will not be cut in even-sized chunks. The cake batter might be a little lumpy. The pancakes might be cooked a little on the raw side. No matter what happens, find something to praise and encourage your budding chef to continue the good work.
8. Rules and Structure.
Kids need boundaries, especially in the kitchen. So set the rules early on. Always wash your hands before you touch food. Always pay attention when you are working with sharp or hot objects. No horse playing while cooking or preparing food. Follow directions. During my camp, my girls were peeling potatoes. There were some conversations going on and one girl said that they weren’t supposed to talk while cutting and peeling. Another girl chimed in that they could talk, but they had to keep their eyes on what they were doing. I was so delighted that they were paying attention to the rules I had put in place. Only a few fingers were nicked during camp because of the rules I set before them.
9. Math is Fun!
Even before you cook, go over the recipe and quantities you need to make. Explaining how you make ¾-cup of flour using two measuring cups is an important math lesson. What if you need to double the recipe? What if you need to cut it in half? What would your new quantities be? When kids see their math lessons from school being used in real life scenarios at home, their little brains get excited. They are more eager to learn and pay attention.
10. Cleaning Up is Part of Cooking!
Oh yes. Don’t keep this fun all to yourself! Have your child help clean up after the meal prep is done. It could just be putting ingredients away or placing dirty bowls and utensils in the sink. Older kids can help wash and wipe down the countertops. Even drying spoons and putting them away is a simple task for a toddler to learn.
So there you go. Last week in a nutshell. I will be sharing more of my recipes and insights from my cooking camp in the next few weeks. The main thing I learned was that these kids sure surprised me. They surprised me with their eagerness to learn, their enthusiasm to help and their willingness to try new things. Everyday, we made our lunch and baked a treat. We sampled a whole lot of fabulous produce and talked about so many topics. We sang, joked and had a lot of fun all while cooking, chopping, mixing and baking. You can see our shenanigans on Instagram here: #fscookingcamp
I think your kids will surprise you, too.
I also want to take a moment to thank these fabulous companies who supported my camp, by providing me with plenty of fabulous ingredients and kitchen utensils for all of my girls. Without their kind contributions, I couldn’t have accomplished everything I did last week. So, thank you so much Melissa’s Produce, Driscoll’s Berries, Bob’s Red Mill, OXO, Wilton, Davidson’s Safest Choice Eggs and Cabot Cheese.
Kid-Friendly Recipes we made:
Fruit Infused Water