Just as with school sports, or community involvement projects, cooking with others teaches kids teamwork and organizational skills. When they come home from school, ask them to help you with dinner, and make it a fun time for you both.
But keep in mind: the key to cooking with kids is patience and support. It takes young hands longer to adjust to kitchen tools, longer to cut vegetables and more time to follow instructions. Think about how much longer it takes you, as an adult, when you make a dish by following a new recipe, rather than simply whipping up something you've made many times before. Or, have you ever seen Jacques Pepin bone a whole chicken in one minute: he's spent years learning his craft and makes it look easy, but unless you are a trained chef, you would likely find it much more challenging.
Kids also need your support. The lettuce may be torn quite raggedly, or the flour might spill all over the counter, but these things are all OK. It's part of learning. Don't get mad at them for trying. Instead, let them know that you appreciate their efforts. And when you make mistakes—like burning the beans or dropping an egg on the floor, laugh it off with them. Nothing is such a big deal that it should spoil your times together. Dinner may not be what you had planned, but at least you had fun making it. And there are always plenty more opportunities to cook and eat—each and every day.
If they are having trouble with something, like peeling a fruit or measuring a liquid, help them out. Give them a hand. After all, that is what teamwork is all about. And let the kids hear that you like having them on your kitchen team. Learning to work together productively will help them out in all aspects of their lives.
Cooking offers another benefit: it's all about organization—from where you put the groceries in the pantry to what dishes go where, to how you set up your spice cabinet. Likewise, following a recipe involves a great deal of organization. If a recipe is well written, you should be able to follow each and every step clearly. But sometimes they are not so well written, and you run into surprises. Always read a recipe all the way through first, with your kids, to determine those less-obvious instructions and so you can tell what all the steps are before you begin. You may decide the recipe takes too long to make, or that you really don't have all the ingredients you need.
You and your kids should get in the "mise en place" habit, or as I call it, getting your ducks in a row. It's a French term that really means putting things in place, like pulling out all the measuring cups and cooking utensils you'll need, setting out all the foods required and prepping the ingredients (like rinsing the lettuce or chopping the onion) before you actually begin cooking. This is where young chefs can be a huge help, and it can be fun for them as well. They may not realize it, but the same skills required to "get their ducks in a row" are ones that will benefit them throughout their lifetime.
When you accomplish something, don't you feel better? Your self-esteem rises and you can be rightfully proud of your accomplishment. Cooking is a terrific method of building confidence and self-esteem, because it has very tangible, very real rewards that are produced in a short time period. Perhaps this is why so many people of all ages like to cook.
Cooking also encourages creativity. Whether it's in combining the flavors of a dish or in arranging the presentation, cooking offers lots of opportunity for letting your creative juices flow freely—another reason why it's so popular. Allow your kids the freedom to be original in their recipes and be sure to give them praise and "attaboys" when they are particularly proud of their accomplishments. The more you reinforce the positive, the more you are contributing to your child's overall well being.
This is an edited and updated archive of pages originally published in 1997.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007
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