Teaching Children Life Lessons Through Cooking {Guest Post!}

As I wrap up the final sets of cookies for 2011 in my kitchen, please let me introduce you to a new friend of mine, Emily Patterson! Emily is a girl with interests after my own heart… putting children in the kitchen! I swear, with her wise tips, one day I’ll be able to prop my feet up & have both my boys cook every meal! ;-)


Time spent in the kitchen can be valuable for kids. After all, families spend the majority of their time together in the kitchen. Homemade breakfasts before busy days at work and school, afternoon barbecues with friends, and holiday meals are only a few of the life events that fill the bustling kitchen.

While the kitchen provides an excellent space to have quality time, it also poses a danger to the youngest family members. A broiling oven, sizzling skillet and bubbling pot all catch the attention of a fascinated child, but parents can make kitchen time a safe learning opportunity without minimizing the fun.

Engage your child. Children love to act independently. They take pride in feeling like they are older and more capable. Parents can encourage this by giving children simple jobs: stirring the cake batter, kneading bread dough and pouring a measuring cup. Let them help prepare dishes by tossing a salad or sprinkling cheese. If you feel they are too young to work with the actual food, give them pots, pans and wooden spoons; they’ll know what to do!

Set the rules. As the executive chef of your kitchen, let children know what the rules are and how to follow them. Point out the objects that are completely off limits. These typically include the stove, the knife block and other sharp objects. Give them a cabinet or drawer that is considered theirs. Whether you fill it with child plates and utensils or you give them free range of the tupperware drawer, they’ll be excited that it’s available to them. Teach them how to properly wash their hands before and after touching food. Explain basic food safety and why it’s important to prevent the spreading of germs. Finally, parents need rules too. Keep all pot handles turned toward the wall so little arms can’t reach. Don’t hang towels from the stove; they will undoubtedly be yanked. Check the temperature of your water heater. While scalding, hot water seems great for scrubbing dishes, it can injure the hands of your eagerly helpful child.

Be the teacher. Not only does the kitchen provide tasty meals and plenty of bonding time, it is a great educational setting as well. Teach your child how to follow recipes and measure quantities of ingredients. They’ll quickly learn why reading carefully and adding correctly is vital in the kitchen. You can even teach them knife skills starting as early as toddlerhood. Using a dull spreader, they can cut through soft cheeses and cooked pasta. As they get older, they can practice with a plastic knife. When you feel they’re ready, teach them about the different types of knives, how to sharpen them and when to use each kind.

Turn up the fun! Don’t stress out over the inevitable mess that comes along with having children in the kitchen. It’s all about experiencing foods with all five senses. Expect each hands-on activity to be completely with drips, slips and spills, but be sure your little one assists with the cleanup as well. Giving them a wet towel to clean a mess on the floor will both amuse them and teach them that there’s no such thing as a magical cleaning fairy; everybody needs to do their part.

When the cooking is done, let your mini sous chef try out their masterpiece. After a job well-done, you’ll see that kitchen time helps them grow, explore and build a sense of pride and self-worth. Bon appetit!

(Written by Emily Patterson on behalf of Primrose Schools. Primrose provides the kind of educational experiences and day care children need to build a strong foundation for success in school and in life. Emily has written a number of articles on topics varying from bilingual learning to teaching the importance of volunteering.)

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4 comments on “Teaching Children Life Lessons Through Cooking {Guest Post!}

  1. Heather on said:

    You know I think this is one of the most important parts of being a parent. It was one of the things that I looked most forward to when I had kids. Catherine making her first bread, then braiding it, and eating it (along with the rest of the meal she helped make) was the highlight of my holidays this year. It is us being together, it teaches her math (measuring), science (why bread rises), and of course how to make her own food.

    Whether it’s just throwing stuff in a crock pot or baking goods, I love having the help.

  2. Love this post! I think kids should be helping out in the kitchen from the time they can hold a spoon. Yes of course, parents need to take safety measures and remove all hazards but to not allow children, from an early age to be *hands-on* in the kitchen is not only depriving them of valuable skills early on but also depriving you and them of precious time of making memories together that you can never get back.

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I’m Nicole, and I’m glad you’ve stopped by my little corner of the web! I’m a former Air Force wife whose passions are baking, cookie-making, and photo-taking… all to the benefit of my loves – my family! C’mon in to…read more.

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