Kids in the Kitchen

I do not have many memories of when I was 4 years old but one stands out in my mind like it was yesterday.  I was at the kitchen table “cooking” while mom made dinner. I mixed milk and peas in a cereal bowl with some other ingredients that I don’t recall. I was so excited that I created my own recipe and was beaming with pride when I showed it to my mother.  She took one look at my creation and immediately took it away and placed it on top of the refrigerator. I was devastated. Couldn’t she see what a budding chef I was?  I guess that was lost on her as she cared for a 5, 4, 3 and 1 year old while cooking dinner.

What brought this memory back so vividly was cooking with my three year old son the other day.  Bryan was having the same fun creating his own recipe as he washed vegetables and played in the sink.  He measured out pretend ingredients with made up measurements. Needless to say, I praised him to the high heavens when he was done. Even at the young age of three he had mastered several essential cooking concepts: measuring ingredients and mixing them, plus the creativity that is essential when pulling together ingredients for a recipe. Another great benefit during this time of “play cooking” is that this is when he tries new food quite often without hesitation.

He understands at three years of age that ingredients go into making a dish.  For example he knows that sugar, flour and eggs make a cake. This awareness is huge.  Many children think chicken nuggets come that way or their glow in the dark candy is actually a food.  They don’t have the ability to distinguish whether something is food or junk. Most of their generation has never been to a farm, grown food in a garden, or seen how food is prepared in a kitchen.  They are so removed from learning what food is that we can not blame them for choosing the great tasting junk.

With life’s frantic pace, I do not meet many children that know how to cook these days.  It is so important that kids know how to cook from scratch (even if you don’t know how yet), instead of just how to order out at a restaurant.  Their future health will depend on how much control they have over their food choices.  If they only know how to order out, their health will suffer in the long term. If your child does not already help you in the kitchen, try to get them in the kitchen at least on one night of the week.  Choose a night when you are less harried and stressed because it will be more fun for the both of you.

There is work that even a two to four year old can help with: wash fruit and vegetables, mix ingredients in a bowl and help you measure. My whole family loves Bryan’s fabulous tarter sauce. As your child ages they can work on other essential cooking elements that you help them with until they have mastered the technique: cutting up ingredients, reading and following a recipe, stirring a pot on the stove.  You will know when your child is ready and mature enough to handle each stage.  Focus on teaching them how to cook one meal really well so that by the time they are twelve they can make it themselves. Your goal is to send your son or daughter off to college, trade school or just out of the house mastering at least 4 recipes.  Common ones that many teens enjoy are chili, a pasta dish, an egg dish, and tacos.


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