One of the best ways to get children excited about food is to learn together with food, by involving them in cooking activities. Whether in the classroom, at home, or in early childcare settings, there is no denying the magic of bringing children and food together.
Why cook with kids?
Involving children in hands-on food preparation activities helps them develop fine motor skills and build practical food skills, such as learning to plan, prepare, store, and eat food. Practising these skills allows children to connect and engage with the many roles of food in their lives.
Children may be cautious when introduced to a new food. Before ever tasting a food, children may wish to see it, touch it, smell it, or observe others eating it. When children contribute to food preparation, they gain exposure to the food they are making and often get excited about it. This exposure and excitement may encourage them to try it, but if not – that’s okay! Each child is on their own food journey.
When children cook, they learn about more than just food. Science, math, reading, communication, history, food systems, and more can easily be woven into a cooking activity.
Where to start?
Now that you know some of the benefits of cooking with kids, you may be wondering how to get started. Whether you are planning a cooking lesson for your classroom or for a group of early learners, the tips we’ve compiled will make your cooking activity a success.
Choose a recipe that everyone can enjoy: Find out what foods the children are interested in and consider food allergies, intolerances, and restrictions they may have when choosing a recipe. Determine how many portions you will need.
Gather the materials: Gather the ingredients and equipment you will need for your recipe. It’s okay if you don’t have access to a full kitchen. No-cook or assembly recipes such as yogurt parfaits still count. Equipment such as mixing bowls, cutting boards, knives, blenders, electric grills, microwaves, and griddles offer a lot of flexibility if you are bringing the kitchen to the classroom.
Get organized: Decide if and how you will divide children into groups and organize your space. You may decide to have groups take turns making the recipe or assign different roles to each group. Do whatever works best for your group, your space, and your chosen recipe.
Recruit support: It may be useful to have extra hands and eyes to supervise and assist with your cooking activity, especially with large groups or when working with younger children. Gracious TAs, parents, grandparents, and older children are great allies.
Trust that kids are capable: It may be nerve-wracking to involve children in the kitchen, but don’t worry – there are many tasks they can do with supervision. Even in preschool, children can help with tasks such as mixing, whisking, measuring, slicing ingredients with a butter knife, and assembling ingredients. Trust that they are capable and allow them to decide whether and how much they would like to be involved.
Enjoy food together: Sharing food together allows us to form connections. Take time to come together to eat and to share your thoughts about your cooking experience as a group. This is a great opportunity to explore food, ask for feedback, and reflect on the experience. Ask children what they liked, what they found difficult, and if there was anything they would change about the recipe. Remember, every child is on their own food journey and it’s okay if they are not ready to try the recipe that day.
A Guide to Cooking Techniques
If you are looking for a way to demonstrate cooking techniques to children, download our free resource, A Guide to Cooking Techniques. This resource provides descriptions and visual demonstrations for techniques such as measuring, mixing, and cutting, and will make learning to cook more enticing for young chefs!