What’s your earliest memory of?
I would bet one of them is the smell of your mother’s cooking, a spice she used frequently, seeing her cook, or being in the kitchen with her. SOMETHING with your home’s kitchen.
For me it’s being in the kitchen, with my mother. I remember the smell of the spice rack, the cabinets, the smell of great cooking, especially fresh garlic and black pepper. I also tried to climb into the kitchen cabinet.
You need to cook with your kids. No, I’m not suggesting give them a knife and a frying pan and let them ruin a 15 dollar steak! But here’s 7 reasons to:
1. Memories – Kitchens are full of new and interesting smells, and smell is the strongest sense tied to memory. You are building memories whether or not they know it yet.
2. Bonding – Doing things together is a great way to bond with either parent, something needed for development and emotional health.
3. Motor Skills – Cooking requires both fine and gross motor skills.
4. New vocabulary – Naming all the different ingredients and kitchen tools is sure to build their already fast developing vocabulary. My daughter learned the difference between pot and pan, as well as words like “pepper” “onion” (she pronounced it “ung-ie”) and “garlic”, all at about one and half.
5. Responsibility – They learn to admit they made a mess, and help clean it up.
6. Self-discipline – They have to learn to behave, not throw food around and put anything in sight in their mouth. They develop self control while resisting the temptation to add an entire jar of black pepper to dinner.
7. Confidence – Kids want to help, and mimic what other family members do. Even when its something simple, they helped, and when they are told they did well, they develop self-esteem.
It depends on their age and abilities. Obviously a newborn shouldn’t be cooking, or child who doesn’t listen well to instructions like “dont touch that” , “dont put that in your mouth” etc. But if they can pincer grip, stand or sit unaided, it’s great time to try.
It takes some patience, some extra time, and lots of paper towels at times. Even letting them put salt in water, waiting to boil pasta, brings a smile and confidence that will stick with you.
My daughter has been helping in the kitchen since she was about a year old. To this day we have a tall barstool that she sits on anytime her mother or I cook. She loves to smell the different spices, help us stir food, etc.
She was so eager to help us, we let her cut veggies with our help (read-on to hear how). We’ve never had an accident, and its something her and I love. We have so much fun. While it takes longer, the time together and the meals are special to her because she helped. She’s learned some great safety pointers.
**Some of these suggestions will not be appropriate for every child. A child who doesn’t understand what hot is and won’t listen when you say “don’t touch” probably shouldn’t be near the stove. It doesn’t mean they can’t help. You just have to be creative with what you let them do. Let them do things they can.
Give yourself some extra time, and ask if they want to watch or help.Here’s a few ways to include your toddler in cooking.
Start by letting them play with things like kitchen spoons, whisks (may get bent), securely sealed seasoning jars, or let them watch while holding anything kitchen related, and narrating what you are doing.
– Ask them if they want to put salt in the water, make a sandwich, spread butter on toast, add salt to an avocado, season something in a bowl, mix dough.
– Put the seasoning or ingredients in their hand, assist them with yours.
– Always encourage them. Say “good job” or “you did it”, even if the result is not perfect. Savor their confident smile.
– Let them put something in the microwave and push the buttons, and remind them to be careful when you take it out. What kid wouldn’t want to push buttons that make noise?
Have them cut produce with you, let them have a hand on the knife handle (“Are you crazy!?” I know, keep reading though!). Place your hand over theirs. They must make sure to place the free hand in their lap. They may apply some pressure, they may not. Go slow and be extra careful, they may not keep their hand in their lap for long.
There are kid-safe plastic kitchen knives for example, that cut veggies and not skin. If you think that’d be perfect, give them a try. They are less than 10 bucks for a set of 3-5.
-Kids appreciate when they have their “own” tools for tasks. Even if it’s a spoon from the dollar store.
The only thing I’ve found that bothers them is sometimes there isn’t any more to be done except wait. That’s torture, but its a good time to redirect their attention to something while you wait to serve the meal.
It can be exhausting or frustrating. It can get messy, but you will find your own way to do it, depending on what you cook, and what your child’s abilities are. I’m sure you and your child will both enjoy doing this, and they will even start asking to help you. Isn’t it the dream to have a kid who asks to help you?
A version of this post was previously published on Andrewak and is republished here with permission from the author.
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