Getting youths off the couch and into the kitchen may be nothing short of child’s play.
WRITTEN BY BARBARA TWITCHELL
PHOTOS BY JEFF ROSS
Children are curious by nature. And the kitchen is a child’s paradise — pots to bang, water to splash, machines that whir, gushy things to squeeze, messes to make, and yummy things to eat. Face it, it’s the most interesting room in the house.
Truth is, our little ones actually want to be in there with us. So teaching them to enjoy cooking and good food is really just a matter of putting out the welcome mat by tapping into their youthful curiosity. Or, in this case, let’s call is epicuriosity.
But, as with all things, presentation is the key. Make it sound like a chore and you’re toast, particularly with older children. Youths are just like us; they want to feel important, responsible, capable, and valued. Remember, there’s a big difference between “You have to” and “You get to.” Make helping in the kitchen an enjoyable opportunity, not a chore.
Cooking together is a great chance to share quality time with your child, and children really appreciate that. With our busy lives, it’s not often that youths get mom or dad’s undivided attention. It’s one of the best motivators you can offer your child for joining you in the kitchen. In fact, if you have more than one child, cook with each one individually. It makes your young chef du jour feel all the more special.
OK, so once they’re in there, what can they do? Probably more than you think. We tend to underestimate what our children are capable of. With a little assistance, even 3 and 4 year olds can tear lettuce, wash fruits and veggies, grease a pan, pour, stir, and wash nonbreakable cookware and utensils.
Five and 6 year olds can handle all of the above plus tasks such as measuring, sifting, cutting, spreading soft foods with a blunt knife, making simple snacks, mashing soft fruits and veggies, arranging things on a plate, and setting the table.
From 7 to 12, they can read and follow a basic recipe, use a microwave, peel and cut vegetables, measure accurately, knead and roll out dough, make a salad, and cook up a simple recipe by themselves.
Play your cards right and by the time they’re teenagers, they’ll be able to independently perform all basic cooking tasks, create a menu and a grocery list, shop for ingredients, and produce a meal all by themselves.
Does all this teaching and guidance mean extra work for you along the way? You bet. But there also are lots of benefits, not the least of which are building strong bonds and a storehouse of fond memories. But, equally important, you’ll be giving your child a gift that will last a lifetime — the ability to create and appreciate good, healthy meals.