Involving children in cooking can teach them basic cooking skills that they can build on in years to come, instill important safety considerations, and even reinforce some of the concepts that they have learned in school, especially science and math. The following tips can help you involve your children in holiday meal preparation in meaningful and fun ways:
1. Give your children valuable tasks to complete.
With younger children, it can be tempting to assign mostly “busy” tasks that make them feel like they contribute with actually doing anything. Typically, children see through this guise. Instead, find tasks that they can actually complete.
Kids of any age can complete tasks that do not involve heat or sharp objects. These tasks include washing foods in a colander, tearing lettuce for a salad, or even mashing potatoes. Younger children can also play a role in setting the table. By giving kids meaningful tasks, you demonstrate a degree of trust that builds their confidence and makes them more excited to participate in future cooking projects.
2. Provide an opportunity for experimentation.
Older children may come to the kitchen with ideas of the own. Instead of discouraging experimentation, you should work with your kids to come up with a game plan, even if it is just to make a smaller, “test” version of the new idea. You can even invite your children to think of additional menu alterations to help develop their imagination. For example, if you forgot to purchase the marshmallows that normally go on top of a sweet potato casserole, you could charge your child with finding something else to put on top. This could be anything from crushed corn flakes to chocolate chips to sharp cheddar, depending on the tastes of your family.
3. Use cooking to reinforce scientific principles.
You can find a number of online kid-friendly recipes that reinforce learning from science class. By baking from scratch, for example, children can learn about fermentation and how that produces carbon dioxide, which causes the bread to rise.
You can also tailor the depth of the lesson according to the ages of your children or even use it as an opportunity for the older kids to teach something new to the younger ones. Very young children especially enjoy using food dyes to learn about color combinations.
Another commonly used lesson involves making ice cream the “old-fashioned” way, using salt to lower the freezing temperature of ice and freeze the dairy products before their eyes. Families without an ice cream churn can easily use Ziploc bags to create homemade ice cream.
4. Involve kids in the planning and shopping process.
As you plan for your large holiday meals, you can ask your children what they would like to eat and then charge them with making those items. Involving children in this process teaches them to plan and research. The kids will need to look at recipes, find one that looks particularly good, and then make a shopping list.
Ideally, you can take your kids to a local farmers’ market so that they can engage with people who grew the food they will eat and learn exactly where the ingredients were grown. This step involves them in the entire process and teaches them all the work that goes into producing food and then turning it into something delicious for the table.
5. Incorporate math into the kitchen.
Much of cooking depends on math, and even very young children have the skills necessary to help with these steps. Entrusting calculations to children can increase their confidence in the classroom and make them feel like they have mastered the concepts involved.
One of the most basic ways to incorporate math is to ask children to help divide dough into equal parts. The children will have to think about how to go about the division and then count the parts to make sure that they ended up with the right number. Best of all, if they make a mistake, they can easily correct it.
To reinforce multiplication, have kids help with scaling recipes. When cooking for the holidays, families typically need to multiple a recipe by two, three, or even four. You can ask your kids to do the conversions and then do a quick double check to make sure that calculations are right. Measuring also involves fractions, whether adding, dividing, or multiplying them.