As we get older and cooking becomes second nature, it's easy to forget all of the skills that it takes to cook: a cook must be creative, understand math fundamentals, science, nature, have excellent hand-eye coordination and be constantly attentive to reading and writing. Getting children involved in preparing their own meals is also a wonderful opportunity to instill the import of eating nutritious meals. Later on, older kids may need to help out with family food shopping, meal preparation and cleanup. Becoming skilled in the kitchen is more than fun--it is necessary for survival!
How to get started
To begin with, it's important to consider the nutritional needs of most school-age children. Cooking should center around creative foods that meet their growth needs. Most children need 1800 to 2200 calories per day. This translates into about 6 to 9 servings from the bread and cereal group, 3 to 4 servings from the vegetable group, 2 to 3 servings from fruit, 2 to 3 servings from dairy, and 2 to 3 (about 5 to 6 ounces) servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts. When choosing recipes, try to select those that span at least one or two of these groups.
- Choose illustrated children's cookbooks that show the foods, measurements and steps along the way.
- Ask the child what he or she would like to prepare and try to steer them in the healthy direction.
- Foods and recipes should match the abilities of your child. When dealing with foods a child might prepare alone, prepare them together at least once first.
- Turn the event into a total experience by shopping for the ingredients together.
- Supervise children as they work with knives, the stove and other potentially dangerous equipment.
- Have children help you store the food and leftovers. Use this chance to teach them how to handle food to avoid spoilage and food-borne illnesses.
- If you are just getting started, consider using "no cook" recipes that give your child a feel for cooking and the kitchen without the stress of frying or baking.
A few no-bake ideas:
Make banana pops.Peel a banana, dip it into melted chocolate or low-fat yogurt, roll in crushed nuts and freeze on cookie sheets.
Fun sandwiches. Use interesting cookie cutters to cut shapes from whole-grain bread. Spread the shapes with peanut butter or add turkey or cheese to make sandwiches.
Make yogurt shakes. Using a plastic blender container, combine yogurt, fruit, ice and milk or juice in the blender and blend until smooth.
Assemble fun kabobs. Skewer pieces of fruit or vegetables onto thin pretzels sticks.
Preparing food with kids offers and ideal opportunity to help them explore a wide variety of foods at the same time they learn how to handle and prepare foods in a healthy way. Pull up that kitchen counter seat and start cookin'!