Cooking Activities for Young Children

Sharing kitchen time with your young child encourages his understanding of and interest in cooking, nutrition and food safety, building the beginnings of lifelong food literacy. Use his age, level of dexterity and patience to guide what you allow him to do. Meanwhile, the two of you can spend some one-on-one time together, and he can gain a new appreciation of the real work that underlies the magical appearance of meals on the dinner table.

Embrace the Mess

Your own cooking exploits don't proceed free from splats and spills, so your underage assistant doesn't deserve all the blame for the occasionally messy menu prep. If you focus on trying to produce picture-perfect food in a kitchen that looks like you just cleaned it, you may as well sit your child across the room on a stool in front of the HDTV that otherwise keeps you company while you beat, chop and whisk your way through food chores. Cooking with your child should be an enjoyable exercise for both of you, a chance to reinforce your child's math skills, help him build self esteem and foster an independent self reliance that will stand him in good stead as an adult.

Non-Reader Recipes

Kitchen capers with a preschooler in tow call for special tactics to bridge the gap between recipes and reading. Try a non-reader recipe, one that's made up of pictures. Use your digital camera to capture the amounts of ingredients in measuring cups and spoons, the look of various prep steps and the fill level in pans and utensils. Store the image sequence, along with your recipe text, on a tablet device so the next time you prepare that dish, you can include your youngster in the process. At each step, show your child a picture of ingredient amounts and ask him to duplicate what the image shows, reinforcing concepts related to math. Show him how a tall, skinny vessel can hold the same amount as a short, squat one.

Technology to the Rescue

Along with tablet devices for recipe display, your smartphone or notebook computer can provide valuable last-minute assistance to respond to the whys you hear in the midst of food preparation.You may not remember exactly how yeast makes dough rise or why you shouldn't use tall pans in your range's convection oven, but the Internet can handle all the questions that may come up while you’re cooking. Along with the informational assist, your technology can add some musical entertainment to the shared culinary extravaganza, with a playlist you whipped up for the occasion and synced among your portable devices.

'Pick One'

For an interesting exercise in kitchen fun that also offers you and your child a learning experience, try a cooking "game" in which your child picks one ingredient, utensil or tool from a preselected group of items you set on the countertop. After your child makes his selection, proceed to show him what you can do with it, what kinds of recipes you can prepare with it, how it tastes and why he might enjoy it. If you constrain the choices you offer to things through which you'd like to expand his food consciousness, cooking awareness or food-safety knowledge, then every choice he makes provides a positive outcome.

Photo Credits: Anne Dale/Demand Media

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