For the majority of designated family chefs, meal preparation seems like a thankless chore. Too often, nutritious dishes are slaved over only to be rejected by picky eaters in favor of frozen chicken nuggets or microwavable macaroni and cheese. Even when meals are happily received, the prep work and cleanup can become monotonous and tiresome. Fortunately for weary cooks, kids (who would normally be underfoot or turning up their noses at the dinner table) hold the key to making meal preparation more rewarding, enjoyable and even educational.
Many children don't see cooking as a chore. Instead, they delight in using ingredients and child-safe kitchen tools to create a finished product. In fact, cooking can teach or reinforce basic math concepts, enhance reading skills, foster creativity and emphasize the importance of safety [source: Margulis]. Cooking with children also teaches them the fundamentals of nutrition, an important lesson in today's society with rates of childhood obesity on the upswing. HowStuffWorks has put together a list of five safe cooking activities for well-supervised children to enjoy preparing, serving and, of course, eating.
Fruit and Veggie Prep
Even little sprouts can help prepare food for cooking. Washing fruits and vegetables in the sink is a great way to involve children in the mealtime prep process. What's more, it frees up the adult chef for more difficult tasks. Other veggie prep functions, such as tearing lettuce for salad, snapping green beans and shucking corn, which seem like tedious jobs to adults, are fascinating to kids of all ages. Your kids will love the many sounds, smells and textures they are bound to encounter in the process. As an added bonus, kids who normally shun vegetables are more likely to eat them if they've had a hand in the preparation process [source: Hafer]. And those who shy away from raw fruit can be enticed by peeling their own bananas and snapping the stems off strawberries for nutritious fruit smoothies. Kids enjoy filling the blender with sliced fruit, pouring in fruit juice or yogurt, and watching the ingredients morph and spin into a healthy snack.
Mix It Up
Recipes that require mixing are especially kid-friendly. Budding mathematicians can learn the fundamentals of measurement, fractions and volume using measuring cups and spoons [source: Parents]. Even pint-sized chefs can stir basic ingredients with a wooden or plastic spoon. Slightly older children can perform the popular egg-cracking job, although it's a good idea for an adult to do a quick scan for eggshell fragments in the bowl.
Mix-based recipes also provide a perfect opportunity for budding readers to practice reading out loud. As an added bonus, this teaches children how following directions in sequential order results in a successful finished product [source: PBS Parents]. There's no shortage of mix-based recipes with which to teach these valuable lessons. Brownies, pancakes, waffles and muffins are just a few mouthwatering possibilities.
Play with Dough
Kids love to play with their food. Although most parents don't encourage it at the dinner table, why not let children have a little fun during meal prep time? If you're hesitant, consider this: Many cooking-related tasks, such as kneading dough, actually increase dexterity [source: Reilly]. Even tiny tots who can't negotiate a rolling pin will enjoy squishing and molding a little dough with their hands. Older children can learn to make dough from scratch and then help mold biscuits or roll it out to create a pie crust.
Children love to mark special occasions, so whether it's Christmas, St. Patrick's Day or Valentine's Day, you can bet they'll want to make cookies with holiday-themed cookie cutters. Homemade or refrigerated store-bought cookie dough can also serve as an unlikely educational tool when you direct your kids to roll it into various shapes and sizes or when you show them how to make numbers and letters out of it [source: Parents]. Add a little homemade frosting and some sprinkles, and young chefs will have a tasty creation to show off to the rest of the household.
Pizza is one of the few dinnertime treats beloved by the vast majority of children and adults alike. The beauty of pizza is that it can be tailored to fit any taste, no matter how picky the eater. All you need is a pre-made or homemade pizza crust (or several miniature crusts for personalized creations), a can of pizza sauce, cheese and a variety of toppings. Children get a kick out of making their own pizzas, which they can compare and contrast with siblings, parents or anyone else enjoying the feast. Non-meat eaters appreciate the opportunity to create a veggie pizza with toppings like green peppers, broccoli, onions and mushrooms. Many people prefer to adorn their pizzas with less conventional toppings, such as pineapple. Still others choose to leave the cheese off altogether, smothering the crust in toppings and sauce. Homemade pizza night is one of the only mealtimes when everyone can eat exactly what he or she wants and have a great time in the process.
Even the most basic frozen treat, such as homemade fruit juice ice pops, is enough to excite a child on a hot day. A couple of ice pop molds (or even plain old ice cube trays) are all it takes to teach children how liquid freezes into solids. For chefs who wish to up the nutrition factor, many frozen recipes are available that incorporate crushed fruit, milk and yogurt. Recipes for slushies, smoothie pops or sorbets are easy options for well-supervised children to whip up.
A less healthy but completely delicious option is homemade ice cream. Whether made in larger quantities in an ice-cream maker, or as a single serving ice-cream-in-a-bag recipe, this is the perfect opportunity to encourage the development of math and measurement skills. After all, who wants to buy premade ice cream when you can make your own with carefully measured amounts of ice, milk, vanilla, sugar and kosher salt? The end product itself is a built-in reward that children and adults are sure to enjoy making and eating together.
Kids are more likely to eat food they've helped to prepare. Here are 5 Italian dishes kids can make from HowStuffWorks.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Corridan, Kara. "Cooking Safely With Children." Parents.com. (Sept. 21, 2009). http://www.parents.com/recipes/cooking/family-favorites/cooking-safely-with-children/
- "Cooking with Kids." PBS Parents. (Sept. 21, 2009). http://www.pbs.org/parents/parenthelpers/cooking.html
- "Cooking with Kids -- Safely." Parents.com. (Sept. 21, 2009). http://www.parents.com/recipes/cooking/with-kids/cooking-with-kids-safety/
- Hafer, Brenda. "Having Quality Time in the Kitchen." Parents.com. (Sept. 21, 2009).http://www.parents.com/family-life/fitness/family-fitness/having-quality-time-in-the-kitchen/
- Hafer, Brenda. "7 Family Cooking Activities." Parents.com. (Sept. 21, 2009). http://www.parents.com/recipes/cooking/family-favorites/7-family-cooking-activities/
- "Homemade Ice Cream in a Bag." Disney Family Fun. (Sept. 21, 2009).http://jas.familyfun.go.com/recipefinder/display?id=40986
- "How to Make Ice Cream." Disney Family Fun. (Sept. 21, 2009).http://jas.familyfun.go.com/recipefinder/display?id=14876
- "Kids Popsicle Recipes." Kids Cooking Activities. (Sept. 21. 2009). http://www.kids-cooking-activities.com/Popsicle-recipes.html
- Margulis, Jennifer. "Cooking With Kids: Getting Them Involved." Disney Family Food. (Sept. 21, 2009). http://family.go.com/food/article-255150-cooking-with-kids--getting-them-involved-t/
- Okrent, Rebecca Lazear. "Teaching Kids to Cook." Disney Family Fun. (Sept. 21, 2009). http://familyfun.go.com/recipes/kids/feature/famf010502_ffteach/
- Reilly, Kathleen. "Cooking School: Learning in the Kitchen." Parents.com. (Sept. 21, 2009). http://www.parents.com/preschoolers/learning/intellectual/learning-in-kitchen/