“Why do the bubbles rise like that?” Daniel asks as he watches his mother stir a boiling pot of noodles. As she explains how water turns into steam, he grates cheese and measures it into a bowl on the counter.
Together, Daniel and his mother planned this meal of spaghetti, turkey meatballs and salad. He has already mastered muffins and mashed potatoes. Tonight, with a little help from his grown-up assistant, he is making a meal. Daniel has spent the last half-hour measuring spices, washing lettuce, reading labels, and stirring the tomato sauce.
Dinner may have taken a few extra minutes to get on the table, but Daniel, a second grader, is learning a skill many adults haven’t mastered: how to cook a healthy meal.
Certainly, it’s easier and faster to do it yourself. So why encourage your school-age child to join you in the kitchen? Because the lessons they learned there can be a benefit at home and in the classroom.
Cooking teaches kids about eating well.
Kids are usually receptive to conversations about nutrition. Planning a menu can become an opportunity to explain smart food choices. Take the time to discuss the different food groups and encourage your kids to experiment with foods they might not otherwise try. Kids who have a hand in making the vegetables might be a little more willing to sample them at the table.
Sharing food means sharing memories and good conversation.
Grandma’s secret zucchini bread recipe can be your chance to pass on a little bit of family lore. Did you love peanut butter and banana sandwiches when you were 7? Tell your child about the kind of foods you liked as a kid. The kitchen is also a place to ask thought-provoking questions like: To make a really colorful dinner, which foods would you include?
Cooking can foster responsibility.
Kids start out learning to follow recipe directions and then they learn to clean up after themselves when the project is completed. Learning how to safely handle kitchen equipment is an important part of learning to cook. Kids need safety reminders and help with following the steps in a recipe, but they can learn to clean up spills as they happen and to put things back where they belong.
Your kitchen is a learning lab.
As kids learn to crack eggs and stir sauce, they also gain new science, language and math skills. Basic math skills (“are we putting in more salt or baking soda?”) and sequencing skills (“what is first … next … last?”) give way to fractions (“is this \0xBE of a cup?”) as your child gains confidence in the kitchen.
Reading recipes can improve reading comprehension, and something as simple as salt sprinkled on an ice cube demonstrates basic science principles.
© 2016. Article adapted from The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. Used under license.