Introducing children to the kitchen offers them the opportunity to learn essential life skills and foster character traits that will benefit them in the long run. Here are 10 steps to teach children how to prepare their own meals. Both my 6-year-old and 3-year-old are often tasked with making their own breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and sometimes they even help out with dinner!
By involving children in the kitchen, they are able to acquire valuable life skills and develop important qualities that will benefit them throughout their lives. As a result, mothers like me are able to provide three meals a day for their children. Yes, I hope so!
If you need more convincing, here are 10 reasons why it’s important for children to learn how to cook.
- Set realistic expectations
Cooking with children requires patience and a long-term perspective. In the beginning, there may be a lack of focus, inefficient methods, and frequent spills. Being prepared for these challenges can make the experience more enjoyable for everyone.
- Start early
Even young children can learn that the kitchen is a fun and safe place to play with wooden spoons and plastic bowls while you prepare meals. Toddlers who have just started walking and preschoolers can be assigned simple tasks as “helpers,” while school-aged children can begin preparing food with supervision. This article provides a helpful list of kitchen activities appropriate for children of different ages.
- Cook with joy
We all know that children enjoy things that they see their parents enjoy. Here are a few ideas to bring joy into the kitchen:
- Listen to music or share stories about your own cooking experiences.
- Experiment with new recipes.
- Create fun and creative ways to present food.
- Buy decorative dishes and utensils for them to use.
- Teach them how to choose appropriate food
Are you worried about your children opting for unhealthy food like french fries or not eating anything at all? I understand. To address this issue, you can:
- Prioritize the selection of food for the day before allowing them to practice on their own plates.
- For younger children, provide a menu with pictures of different food options they can choose from for their own snacks.
- For older children, provide a list of meal/snack options or provide easy-to-follow recipes that they can prepare. Summer fruit salads, 5-minute vegetarian sandwiches, and pineapple smoothies are great options. You can also check out a list of over 20 cooking recipes that children can try!
- Set up preparation stages
Prepare certain ingredients in advance, such as chopping raw vegetables or cutting cheese, to make it easier for younger children. Making small adjustments in the kitchen, like placing basic ingredients and utensils within their reach, can also be very helpful.
For example, I have set up a lower cabinet that holds items commonly used by children:
- Paper plates and bowls
- Plastic bowls
- Drinking cups
- Oatmeal and homemade snacks
- Homemade Larabars
- Various nuts, dried fruits, and other snacks
- Implement the “Mother does, child does, we do together” approach
This approach is one of the most effective ways to teach children anything, including how to prepare their own meals. For each new skill, demonstrate and explain it to the child first, then allow them to assist you before letting them try it on their own.
- Encourage independence
Our parenting philosophy involves giving children a bit more responsibility than they think they can handle, and then encouraging them to step out of their comfort zone to find their own solutions and experience their own achievements.
It’s surprising how quickly they learn to recognize their own hunger and take pride in making their own food! Their approach may be different from ours, but they do it and feel proud of themselves when they do.
- Acknowledge their efforts
Children love to be recognized for their efforts. I make an effort to give my children plenty of compliments, as well as share with the rest of the family how well they’ve done with making their own lunches or helping with dinner. Each time they receive recognition, they share in the joy.
- Acknowledge and reward their efforts
When children demonstrate qualities such as kindness, creativity, helpfulness, or other desirable traits, make sure they know that you are more proud of those qualities than their ability to prepare meals. Most of our rewards at home are not based on behavior or completion of tasks, but on acts of love, kindness, and service to others. We want them to understand that these are the qualities we value most.
- Look forward to the future
Remember, the ultimate goal is independence. As my daughter becomes more skilled in the basic principles of cooking (safety, proper measuring, etc.), I am setting goals that allow her to be more creative and make her own decisions (and learn from her own mistakes) when it comes to food preparation. On those days when I’m too rushed to allow them to do it themselves, I envision a day ten years from now when I can relax with my feet up while she prepares the rest of our dinner!
Introducing children to the kitchen is not only important for teaching them about healthy food and how to prepare it, but it also serves as a training ground for other areas of life. It helps develop their independence, creativity, and sense of service towards others, qualities that the world needs more of.