Basic Cooking Skills for Children

by Maggie McCormick

    Cooking with your children not only teaches them important life skills, it allows you to develop a relationship as you work side by side. Even young children can help out with meal preparation, but older children can start to take the reins in their own hands, planning meals and even preparing the entire meal from start to finish. Use your judgement to determine when your child is ready to take this important step on his own.

    Cooking meals often requires a bit of preparation. You might have to gather the ingredients and chop foods, for example. While you don't necessarily need to put each ingredient in its own little bowl as you'd see on a cooking TV show, your children should learn that it's important to start the cooking process by double-checking that you have everything necessary. This is also a good place to teach substitutions, such as applesauce for oil or tofu for eggs. Young children can chop fruits or vegetables for the meal with a handheld chopper made to push down. Older children can learn knife skills, such as slicing and dicing.

    Though some family recipes might call for a pinch of this or a dash of that, measuring is an important part of many recipes, particularly baked items. Have your child practice measuring items, including leveling dry goods. By doubling or halving a recipe, you can practice mathematical concepts, as your child must figure out how many cups to use when doubling a recipe that calls for 3/4-cup of sugar.

    Children are often anxious to get their hands on the stove. To start, you might allow them to stir items as they are cooking or test the readiness of a food like a potato by sticking a fork in it. Children as young as 4 or 5 might even be ready to try their hand at flipping an egg or a pancake. Work with your child to teach her to cook, stepping back as she does what she can, but taking over when things get to be too much. Safety -- especially avoiding burns -- should be your biggest priority.

    As your child becomes more proficient at cooking with you, it might be time to allow him to give making a family meal a try. Spaghetti, macaroni and cheese or casseroles are all good choices, as they are easy to make. It's important that he plans the full meal, including foods from all food groups to make a well-balanced meal, especially if it's a meal that the family will eat rather than just an afternoon snack.

    About the Author

    Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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