The trouble is, when things are really crazy -- and doesn't that seem like most of the time? -- it can feel like more trouble than it's worth to bring the kids into the kitchen while you cook. It would be so much easier to get in there, get the meal made and on the table, and be on to the next thing. Particularly if you are a bit of a perfectionist in the kitchen, it may be hard to relinquish a little control and teach. But getting kids in the kitchen early not only means help for you (now and later), but it's teaching a critical life skill. Everyone has to eat!
Your kids eat, too, so why can't they help with the cooking? Meals take effort -- they don't appear done and garnished out of thin air, like in Harry Potter.
Having your child in the kitchen with you, helping you get the cooking done can be so much fun. Even the youngest of your kids like to be in the kitchen with you, hearing the sounds of the kitchen, the smells of the kitchen -- and hearing you explain how things go together. Measuring and dumping and stirring are all tasks even little ones can do. Save the sautéing for later -- but preteens can definitely get involved with that.
You have likely invited your children into the kitchen when it's time to make treats. Who doesn't like to make cookies? But take the cooking instruction beyond that, and do it early. Let them know what it takes to make their favorite fried egg and bacon wrap, including the clean up. The simple act of understanding how raw ingredients become a meal (or a treat) is a first step to understanding where food comes from. In addition, it's lessons in math, chemistry and culture. The proportions of oil and water combined to make an emulsion that is salad dressing? That's tasty, tasty science! Using that awesome balsamic vinegar? Talk about your Italian ancestors, too,
Depending on your kids' ages, they can help with everything from prep work to putting together whole meals. Little ones can rip lettuce leaves for salad while older kids can use their emerging knife skills -- with supervision, of course -- to chop carrots or herbs. In between, there's grating and measuring and crushing cloves of garlic and more. All the while, you're sharing your love of cooking with your kids. You're sharing not just food, but an experience.
Make sure, however, that time in the kitchen isn't all work and lessons. Let your child experiment a little in the kitchen. As you feel more comfortable with your child's kitchen skills and safety, you can let them try to put things together that may -- or may not -- work. Who knows? Your child may come up with a new family favorite meal or treat! Italian quesadillas anyone?
Like many life skills, teaching your kids how to cook doesn't happen in one lesson. It's learned over time, with patience, and smaller skills build into bigger skills. Start early to share your love of cooking, and you'll have foodie sous chefs to help make fabulous meals for years to come.
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