Children learn best when they are actively involved, so the kitchen is a perfect environment.
When interested and all of their senses are engaged, children thrive, so provide opportunities for listening, touching, tasting, smelling, and feeling.
We also know that children who help to prepare meals are more likely to try new foods. We encourage healthy eating habits, that we hope will last until adulthood, when we explore the textures, colours, and tastes of our foods without pressuring the children. Introducing new foods alongside one of their favourites is a good strategy.
Cooking also allows them to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when they are able to prepare and share what they have made. Making food together is the beginning of traditions that will be carried from generation to generation.
We live in a culturally rich environment so we can learn about foods from other countries and experiment together!
The kitchen is also a perfect place to learn new words and expand on a child’s vocabulary. Early math, science and literacy skills are clearly at work when they count the number of eggs they need, measure, pour, and follow recipe instructions.
Great fun awaits!
- Special Gear: Help them get into the mood for cooking by providing a chef’s hat, an apron and child size items such as spoons, child friendly plastic knives, a bigger plastic bowl than needed to help contain energetic stirring.
- Quick and Easy: As young children have a limited attention span you may want to engage in experiences that give you quick results by preparing together scrambling eggs, wraps, juicing, smoothies, salads, etc.
- Tear It Up: Toddlers can be given the task of tearing up lettuce or spinach for the salad.
- Colour Day: Provide vegetables and fruits that are just one colour — strawberries, radishes, tomatoes, red peppers, raspberries, etc.
- Cut and Snip Away: With a plastic serrated child friendly knife, young children can cut up strawberries, cooked carrots, cucumbers etc. They can also nibble along the way! For little hands, try giving them a pair of blunt scissors to cut green onions, basil, parsley, or dried fruit such as apricots.
- Crushing: Using a Ziploc bag, place items such as graham crackers into the bag and ask your little one to crush and smash away. You can also use a rolling pin. Use the crumbs for a pie crust.
- Fruit Kabobs: Using fruit that is easy to skewer, cut melons and pineapples, grapes, etc. and thread them onto wooden skewers for a tasty and healthy treat. They may enjoy dipping their fruit into yogurt.
- Squishy Snacks: You need a third of a banana, a large spoonful of peanut butter (if not allergic) and a small Ziploc bag. Put all the ingredients in the bag and make sure it is sealed tightly. Let your grandchild squish away until the ingredients are all mixed. Push all the ingredients to one corner of the bag, snip off the end of the bag with scissors and squeeze the mixture onto bread or crackers.
- Pancakes: Nothing is more fun than pouring out pancake mix into the shape of the first letter of your grandchild’s name! Add faces to your pancake in the traditional round shape with fruit pieces.
- Books: There are so many wonderful children’s books that lend themselves to food experiences. A great way to make a book come alive is to serve green eggs and ham after reading the book by Dr. Seuss. Make porridge after reading The Three Bears, or making gingerbread men or a gingerbread house — a big project but delicious when finished after reading that story. Another classic is Stone Soup by Marcia Brown. Read the story then cook away!
Lynn Wilson is retired faculty from the School of Early Childhood at George Brown College in Toronto and author of A Handbook For Grandparents: Over 700 Creative Things To Do And Make With Your Grandchildren.