Starting Early

I joke a lot about having our 8-year old son work in the kitchen. It usually begins with some seemingly daunting task like hulling 20 pounds of strawberries and ends with some remark about child labour. The funny thing is that I’m not joking. I am dead serious about encouraging parents to have their kids cook with them.

The Kid, age 2, seasoning ribs.

The Kid has always hung around the kitchen. When he was about 6 we decided that he would be an active part of preparing family meals. We established a weekly Kid-led dinner night: he’d come up with a menu, we’d look in our cupboards and fridge and figure out what ingredients we had and what we needed to buy, we’d shop together and then we’d cook together.

Gradually this novelty night has evolved into the Kid pitching in at almost every meal from making pancake batter to peeling and chopping onions to concocting his own seasoning for steaks. And he does it all with pride, knowing that he’s contributing to our family.

Doubtful about having kids in the kitchen? Here are a few benefits of cooking with your kids (there are many, many more):

  • You are spending time with them. There. The argument about not having time to be with your kids is out the window.
  • Kids need to learn the basic life skills of choosing healthy food, cooking it and enjoying it with others. By cooking regular meals with your kids, you are giving them valuable tools for self-reliance.
  • You are capturing and utilizing teachable moments. Imagine all the discussions you can generate about food: taste, texture, smell, math, chemistry, biology, where food comes from, how food affects us…
  • Your kids make a mess. Then they learn how to clean it up. And you get to practice patience, tolerance and letting go.
  • Kids are more likely to try new foods (or old foods that they thought they didn’t like) if they are involved in preparing it. Sounds like a cliché but it works.
  • Kids build a sense of pride and accomplishment when they can say that they took part in making and sharing a meal.
  • Although it initially seems like a lot of work and things take 20 times longer to do, kids will eventually be able to truly contribute and help in the kitchen.
  • You get to engage, build dialogue, community and an incredibly special bond with your children. And isn’t that exactly what parents want?

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