When you think back to memories of your childhood, you may remember a time when you helped a relative prepare a meal or bake a batch of cookies. You may recall feelings of warmth, closeness, and the joy of working together to create something tasty to eat. Perhaps you have even created this type of memory with your own child. Not only is cooking with your child a wonderful bonding opportunity, many things can be learned through experiences with food.
Children learn by touching, tasting, seeing, feeling, and listening. Cooking activities are ideal for children because all their senses are stimulated. When a child’s senses are engaged as they are during cooking experiences, learning becomes meaningful and memorable. Through experiences with food, children as young as three years old can successfully learn the concept of eating a variety of foods from each of the five food groups.
Beginning around age four, a child starts to develop his or her adult food preferences, including preferences for familiar foods. Introducing new foods during the early years helps to expand the number and variety of foods children are more likely to eat during their school-age, teenage, and adult years. Positive interactions with food are fundamental in helping children recognize and accept a wide variety of foods.
In addition to nutrition awareness and food-related behaviors, children learn food safety, food history, and new vocabulary during cooking experiences. Children also have opportunities to strengthen and develop fine- and gross-motor skills as they participate in cooking tasks like stirring, kneading, and pouring through cooking experiences. The step-by-step nature of following a recipe helps build children’s comprehension and reasoning skills. Children practice patience, follow directions, enhance their creativity, and build self-confidence.
Cooking experiences also build children’s knowledge and skills in science, math, reading, and communication. Cooking can be thought of as science experiments that children can eat. When cooking, children have the opportunity to observe changes in food ingredients. They learn about temperature (hot and cold), floating, sinking, dissolving, melting, and freezing. During cooking experiences, children learn math skills such as counting, measuring, and following directions. Simple concepts about quantity are learned, and conversations about color, texture, shape, and sizes frequently occur. Cooking also involves reading and communicating. Children’s vocabulary is enriched as they learn new terms in recipes, such as stir, blend, slice, shred, and freeze.
Food nourishes our bodies, provides comfort, and can symbolize love and security. When children help in the preparation of a meal, they feel they are making an important contribution to the adult world. This fills them with a sense of pride, personal satisfaction, and self-confidence. When a child is introduced to cooking and encouraged to participate in the preparation of a meal, we are telling him or her, “You are a big help,” “You can do this,” and “You are important.”
How does your child like to help you in the kitchen? Is there a favorite meal they like to help you prepare? Get cooking with your child today and let us know how it goes!