Do you involve your children or nanny kids in cooking? They’re never too young to take part in food preparation. Having them see the process or, even better, be a part of it makes them aware of the food that goes into their body. Opportunities abound for you to talk about making healthy choices while cutting up fresh fruits and vegetables. Let them help by allowing them to pour and mix ingredients into whatever it is you might be making. An added benefit: you might even get a picky eater excited about eating! If kids are part of the process, they’ll feel proud and more likely to dig in to their creation. Cooking with kids can be fun for everyone involved!
When children are under a year old, it’s more about observation than active participation. Put them facing out in a front pack or in a highchair so they have a good view of the action. Talk them through what you’re doing and use descriptive vocabulary. Encourage any opportunity for them to touch, smell, taste, or use any of their senses.
When children are old enough to manipulate utensils or dough, let them dive in. If they’ve mastered scooping and dumping, all the better! Let’s say you want to make banana bread. To make the whole process a learning experience, set up the activity during nap-time. Because this age group isn’t reading yet, get index cards and glue pictures to go along with the step-by-step directions that you will write. Spread out the index cards and place them by the necessary materials, such as flour and measuring cups. For example, if you want to work on counting with your child, write a direction for 6 spoonfuls of raisins. Pre-measure whatever amount the recipe calls for, say 1/3 of a cup, and let the child spoon the raisins into your prep bowl. Or, if your child is focused on learning her letters, be creative and use the opportunity to build her literacy knowledge. Write an index card without a picture and read it to her as you point to each word, “Pour one tablespoon of the container that spells S-A-L-T.” Now she’ll have to find the letters that match and when she does then you can proudly say, “Yes, that is the salt!” These are just a few ideas; there are many more developmental opportunities, including color recognition, gross and fine motor skills (kneading dough, stirring batter), and taking turns with you, a sibling or a friend.
Preschoolers and Older
This is your opportunity to really challenge those little minds. You can use the same technique as the index cards above, but this time give the child fewer verbal instructions and help. Let the child be the head chef while you become the sous chef. If the index card says 1 cup of flour and they ask for a cup, throw a curve ball at them. You might say, “That one is dirty, but I have a 1/2 cup.” Wait to see what they do, before offering them hints on how to solve the math problem. Bring science in to the mix and have them create a hypothesis, “What do you think will happen to the flour when you add milk?” If they can’t quite find all the words to describe a texture or taste, offer new vocabulary words. Allow the child’s creativity to shine. Let them pick out the ingredients to tonight’s stir fry or ask them what color they want their dad’s birthday cupcakes to be (how will they make that color). It can be as simple (letting them help cut the shape of their sandwich for lunch) or as complicated (let them design and decorate a castle birthday cake) as you want to make it.
How have you included children in the cooking process? We would love to hear some ideas about cooking with kids on our Facebook page! I encourage you in the next week to plan a healthy cooking or baking activity with the children. When the final product is finished, make sure to congratulate their hard work. They should feel proud and excited to eat it or even share it with the whole family! Ask the child what they want to make next week. And, for picky eaters, give them options, all of which are healthy and delicious! If you would like to learn more about picky eaters and offering healthy meals, please check out our Nutrition Class and Kathy’s picky eaters blog piece.
Kelsey Plimpton is currently a nanny in Boston and has been nannying for five years. She started as a part-time nanny while earning her associates degree in Early Childhood Education. Kelsey has worked with ages 2 months to 15 years in both nannying and babysitting positions, since the age of 13. While working with children she follows their interests to help create activities targeting developmental goals. She blogs with SitterCycle.com and is the Early Childhood Coordinator.