Preparing meals is a life skill for your children to master before they move out of your home, but what are the best ways to go about teaching them? Lilian Anderson, the owner of Sprouting Chefs, an Ann Arbor business that offers children’s cooking classes, shares some of her expertise. As a trained chef, registered dietitian, cooking class instructor and the mother of three, Anderson knows a thing or two about helping children become confident in the kitchen.
What age is best to start cooking with children and what skills are good to teach? Many young children see their mom or dad in the kitchen and are eager to help. Getting them involved when they are young can be a great start to increasing their growing cooking knowledge. Children as young as 3 can be involved by pouring pre-measured ingredients, mixing, stirring, and pushing a button on a food processor. Five to 9-year olds can learn to crack eggs, grate cheese, use a zester and peel fruits and vegetables. Around age 10 a child can learn to chop and dice with supervision and instruction. At that age they can also start to take on some independence in reading and following a recipe.
What are some good recipes to make with kids? Make what you are both interested in and let your child take the lead and choose a recipe. Shop for the ingredients and then make it together. Participating in the food creation process really encourages kids to try new things. Recipes that allow for some creativity (such as shaping dough) are always favorites with kids. Making pretzels is always a favorite with my kids! Breakfast and egg-based dishes are also good beginner options because they usually have simpler recipes with less knife skills needed.
How can families make time to cook together? First off, choose a schedule that is realistic for your family. Do you want to make a brunch together once a month? A dinner every other weekend? Or maybe summer or school breaks are good times to focus on involving your kids in the kitchen. Second, plan ahead. Choose your recipes and make sure you have the ingredients on hand before the planned time of your cooking session. Lastly, give yourself extra time. When children are involved things will take longer. That’s okay, and even enjoyable when you’ve planned, allotted enough time and aren’t trying to rush your child through the cooking process.
What about picky eaters? I have seen in all of the classes I teach that children are so willing to try something that they had a hand in making! Getting your child into the kitchen and participating will naturally open them up to trying different foods. Preparing foods in a different way, for example, roasting vegetables instead of steaming them, may be more appetizing to a child. Also, encouraging a child to try a new food outside of a mealtime can help remove some of the stress and anxiety picky eaters may feel during meals.
Eating and cooking are such social activities. Valuable conversation can come from cooking with your child. There may be challenges with involving children in the kitchen, but the memories made and skills learned can last a lifetime.
Lilian Anderson, the mother of three children ages 9 to 13, has worked in restaurants and been a personal chef. A registered dietitian, she’s the founder of Sprouting Chefs For more information visit sproutingchefs.org.