Nothing kicks off the holiday season quite like the smell of a homemade pumpkin pie. Well, except maybe a turkey slowly roasting in the oven. The point is, food is an essential part of the season of gratitude and giving. This year, start a new holiday tradition that you can practice throughout the year—cook with your kids.
OK, we know what you’re thinking: sharknado in the kitchen. However, teaching your children to cook has so many benefits, it may just make the flour twisters worth it.
To minimize stress, follow a few simple tips:
• Start off with relaxing meals and simple dishes. Think Sunday brunch or Christmas cookies on a Saturday afternoon. You’ll have more time to answer questions, monitor your child’s progress—and clean up.
• Teach age-appropriate tasks. There’s nothing more heart-stopping thant seeing a kindergartener with a chef’s knife. Young children can mix and stir, tear lettuce or spread butter on toast using a dull knife. Older children can measure out ingredients and use kitchen tools like whisks and can openers, eventually graduating to blenders, mixers, and even the stove!
• Clean as you go. One of the secrets to professional cooking also applies in your home kitchen. Teach kids to wipe the counter after each step and stack dishes in the sink after they are finished with them. Outfit your little chef with his or her own apron to keep clothes spot-free.
It may not be the easiest batch of brownies you’ll ever make, but the perks your child will receive are numerous. For instance:
1. Better eating habits. Kids who help make their own meals are more likely to try—and even eat—the food they’ve made, a major bonus for parents of picky eaters. It’s also a great way to introduce nutrient-rich fruits and veggies into their diet.
2. Math, reading, and chemistry know-how. Preparing food helps bring academic lessons to life. Cooking requires reading, counting, measuring and fractions, weighing, sequencing, and problem solving. Older children can tackle chemistry while caramelizing onions or whisking oil and vinegar together for vinaigrette.
3. Knowledge of different cultures. Cultures have rich culinary traditions. Piggyback a lesson on the Great Wall of China by making dumplings or teach your child about Cinco de Mayo while making homemade quesadillas..
4. Deeper understanding of food. A necessary part of cooking is shopping for ingredients. At the supermarket, show kids how to pick out ripe produce and introduce older kids to prices and discounts. Whenever possible, visit your local farmers market to teach your child about local and seasonal produce, and talk about how food is grown.
5. Confidence and creativity. We all love that feeling of making a dish our families devour. Kids are no different. Their self-worth will soar when they present the cupcakes they personally frosted or the casserole they helped assemble. Be sure to oooh and ahhh with gusto!
6. Memories. Cooking together is an amazing time to communicate and bond with your children. The easy-going chats—as well as the meals—help forge family memories your child will remember for a lifetime. What’s more, families that cook together tend to sit down and eat together. Kids who have dinner with their parents do better in school and are less likely to be anxious or depressed.
7. Life skills. It’s hard to believe it now, but someday your children are going to leave the nest. Teaching them to cook is the best way to ensure they won’t have to eat ramen noodles and take-out every night.