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Cooking with Kids

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Cooking together can be a delicious learning experience for children and their parents. Kids can explore new foods, learn about nutrition, and develop math and reading skills as they measure and read directions. These simple guidelines are designed to help you make cooking safe and fun, and to entice your children into trying something new!

Planning is part of the fun!
Invite your child to help to plan a meal or pick a recipe, make a list of ingredients, find them in your kitchen, and/or shop for them. Thisway, children can learn how to organize and follow through, as well as think ahead. Give your kids a sense of control and accomplishment by letting them make choices whenever possible.

Wash hands before you start cooking.
This goes for grown-ups too!

Create a safe place where kids can cook.
Set up a work area at a lower height to make easier for preschoolers to reach things. Offer children a stool only if you know they can balance on it. Remove any sharp objects from their reach.

No matter where kids work, always supervise them closely.
Stay in the kitchen until the cooking is finished - or take the kids with you to another room.

Set up clear rules about the stove.
Explain to them about the stove in age-appropriate, simple terms; for example, "The stove is hot! It's not OK to touch it. Mommy or Daddy will put the pan in the oven. You can watch." Always keep pan and utensil handles turned towards the back of the stove.

Give preschoolers their own safe utensils.
Offer them wooden or plastic ones. If older children are able to use grown-up equipment, monitor them carefully. Avoid giving children graters, as fingers can easily get scraped.

Reading and following directions are in the mix!
Ask your child to read each instruction aloud as you prepare the food. Kids will get a sense of turn-taking and sequencing from following directions in order.

Practice math as you measure and stir.
Your child can count and help measure to build math skills. When cooking with more than one kid, ask each child to count "stirs" as he or she whips the batter.

Siblings or groups of kids can take turns doing the same step - in their own unique way.
You may want to let each child participate in each step of the recipe. This may take longer, but cooking with kids is as much about "process" as it is about product.

It's easier to enjoy cooking together if you're not "starving."
Either pick a quick recipe that makes a healthy snack, or have veggies, fruit, and dip to snack on before you start.

Be spontaneous!
To avoid a trip to the store, make simple substitutions. Cornmeal can sometimes replace flour, use vegetable oil instead of melted butter, etc.

Introduce new foods.
Kids often will try unfamiliar foods, including vegetables and fruits, when they transform them into personal "creations" like a funny face pizza or a fruit kabob.

Turn a sandwich into a special snack!
Cutting sandwiches with cookie cutters makes them special. Decorating with vegetables and fruits will transform a simple sandwich into a sandwich face.

Make set-up and clean-up part of the routine.
Kids may love using a mop or dustpan as much as they love the cooking, but save cleaning until the cake is in the oven.

Enjoy the experience!
But don't be surprised if the kids don't clean their plates. Some kids will enjoy the cooking more than the eating. And so it goes....

This article is from the "Parent Helpers" section of the PBS Parents website.