True confessions: When I get home from a busy day and it’s time to get dinner on the table, sometimes the last thing I want is “help” in the kitchen from my young daughter. It is easier, faster and definitely cleaner if I do it myself. But after I take a deep breath and remind myself how important these early experiences are, we get down to business and have a great time. She and I have been cooking together for a long time, and now she is old enough to use a small knife (yes, even a sharp knife with eagle-eye Mom right there), crack eggs, stir, whisk, measure, mix and even read simple recipes.
It makes me smile that at an early age, she is discovering a love and appreciation for food. It’s important to me that she will have basic cooking skills when she is older — but for now, her time in the kitchen provides a whole variety of learning opportunities.
Spending time in the kitchen provides parents an opportunity to connect with their child. My daughter and I chat about “stuff,” we take turns adding ingredients and making observations. Cooking engages all of the senses, so we talk about how things smell and feel — we watch the dough rise, listen to mixers, observe how things change as they cook and taste new things. I’ve noticed that she is way more willing to taste new foods while we are cooking than if simply introduced at the table. She ate beets for the first time the other day (and liked them) simply because they made her hands turn pink. I’ll take that.
Cooking teaches so many things: problem solving, counting and math, measuring, science, language and literacy development, motor control development (squeezing, stirring, spreading, etc.), creativity and introduction to other cultures. And you get to spend time together and share food.
Preschoolers are very capable of helping in the kitchen (always with constant supervision). They can wash and tear lettuce greens, break things into pieces (bread or green beans, for example), dip, stir and add ingredients. As they get a little older, they can pour, spread, use a cookie cutter, assemble a pizza, count ingredients, knead dough, shake and mix. Older preschoolers can cut soft fruit with a plastic knife, peel some foods, toss a salad, set the table and help make sandwiches.
Cooking provides endless opportunities for development and, even more importantly, creates valuable memories spent together. Every Sunday, my daughter and I make pancakes — one of her favorite dishes to prepare. She routinely has all of the ingredients neatly arranged on the counter before I even get out of the shower. At this point, she can do most of the measuring, pouring, egg cracking, scooping and mixing. I help with the measuring and take care of the cooking part. (I’m not ready for her to be that close to a hot stove). She is proud of her ability in the kitchen and loves to be a part of the process. And I love it too.
Rainbow in My Tummy is a nutrition-enrichment program created by the Verner Center for Early Learning. Rainbow in My Tummy works with early care and education centers to improve the quality of food served to young children and to cultivate a food culture that establishes a foundation for lifelong health. For more information, contact Rainbow in My Tummy Director Bronwen McCormick at 298-0808 or firstname.lastname@example.org.