Kids and Cooking: A Good Combo

kids and cookingIs cooking fun? Maybe you think it's work, but kids see things differently. A 3-5 year old can get a big kick out of peeling or cracking eggs, scraping carrots, smearing butter on toast, decorating a pizza with toppings, stirring cheese into macaroni, or building a sandwich.  Supervised chopping and cutting is also an enjoyable challenge for a young youngster. And as the years advance, hopefully the child who has had pleasant experiences with cooking will move on to making one dish independently and then, in the teen years, preparing a whole meal for the family.  How can you get kids interested in cooking?  Why should you?  This article answers both questions.


I can't claim that this idea is new or that it originated with me, but it's such a good one that it's worth repeating: get kids into the kitchen and provide opportunities, encouragement, and praise for their cooking (or assisting). Kids gain a lot from cooking. It's an academic strengthener—they learn new reading skills, vocabulary, and measurements (math skills). They have fun with and bond with the adult that's helping, supervising, and teaching. Moreover, children get a sense of accomplishment from cooking something on their own, even something as simple as spaghetti or chocolate pudding.   They'll thank you later if you help them develop food preparation skills that serve them well in their adult lives.  (Take it from one who, as a new bride, didn't even know how to make mashed potatoes.  My mom was a great cook, but never a cooking teacher.)


Remember, knowledge is power.  Cooking skills can be a great asset and the lack of them can be humiliating. The new kid on the block may make friends by inviting some classmates to his house and impressing them by serving his homemade ice cream.  A teenager I know would have avoided being laughed at if, when she was preparing dinner for her family, she'd known that broiled lamb chops need to be turned over to cook both sides. 


Convinced?  Here are some suggestions for getting the children in your life (your siblings, your kids, your grandkids, your nieces and nephews. or neighbors' kids) interested in sharing meal or snack preparation with you. Important: This goes for boys, too! They also eat. Remind them that most of the world's famous chefs are men.


1) Teach them to cook some food that you (or someone else) has made for them and that they loved. 


2) Encourage them to make cookies or a cake for a crowd--perhaps their own birthday party or a holiday meal with the extended family. That will give them bragging rights.  You might even post (on Facebook, for example) photos of their beautiful edible products to highlight culinary achievements.  My granddaughter's Cookie Monster cupcakes were so displayed.


3) Get your pupil an apron (a cool one), pot holder, and perhaps, if you want to go all the way, a chef's hat.  Along with the outfit, you might even provide a suitable title--perhaps "assistant chef "or "second kitchen boss."


4) Give them a cookbook created for kids. (Some will be listed later in this piece.)  Let them choose from it what they want to cook.


5) Check online for recipes for kids or encourage your pupil(s) to do this. 


6) As you and your pupil(s) proceed, teach where things are kept in the kitchen and what safety measures must be followed regarding the use of blades, proper food handling to avoid contamination, and care to avoid getting burned by flames, appliances, or hot food.


7) By the time they're in their early teens or even younger, kids can benefit from at least one lesson in proper grocery shopping. Point out food expiration dates and labeling that lists salt and sugar content. Young shoppers should also be reminded to notice prices and compare prices of different brands. And they should be shown how to select produce that's in good condition and likely to be ripe when they want to consume it.  More shopping tips can be added on later trips as they shop for specific ingredients for foods they want to cook themselves. 


6) If you don't have the time or temperament to be a teacher, find a kids' cooking class at a local Y or college or university extension program, and offer to sign them up. Don't insist. The idea, once proposed, might take hold months or even years later.





I went to the largest Barnes and Noble bookstore in my area and asked to see the collection of children's cookbooks.  There were so many that I didn't have time to look through them all.  The ones I skimmed all had beautiful photos and clear explanations. Here is my list of books I looked at plus a few intriguing titles I found on Amazon:


Williams-Sonoma Fun Food:  This one has 25 recipes which include meat, pasta, etc.  Its photos show some boys.   


Pink Princess Cookbook: This one is for younger girls who mostly want to cook sweets.  Recipes are for cookies, cakes, muffins, finger foods, and drinks. 


Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Cool Kids' Cooking: These recipes would not require endless time and countless ingredients.


Cooking is Cool: Heat-Free Recipes for Kids to Cook:  Sounds very safe.


Kosher by Design--Kids in the Kitchen: For Jewish children, this cookbook begins with some basic rules for cooking kosher. Section titles include "breakfast," "snacks," "meat mains,"  "dairy mains,"  "side dishes," "drinks," "desserts."


Time for Kids--Kids in the Kitchen Cookbook: Sections go through breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert.


Cool Chinese & Japanese Cooking: Fun and Tasty Recipes for Kids: This one is a good choice for kids of Asian descent or anyone else who likes Asian foods.


Finally, consider this irresistible title I found on Amazon: Funny Food: 365 Fun, Healthy, Silly, Creative Breakfasts   Check out the cute cover on this book! It should convince any kid that cooking is fun.


Any one of these books would be a great gift for a child. 


Want to go international? Google "ethnic cookbooks for children" to find a large number of series and individual books containing recipes from around the world.


Of course, you don't need to buy a kids' cookbook. You can probably find some in your local library and photocopy recipes your young chef(s) want to try.





Another source of free recipes is your computer. Just google "recipes for children" to reach links to all kinds of sites.  Some are designed to get you (and your young student) using particular brands or products--Rice Krispies, Duncan Hines, Kraft, and so on, but they can still be good recipes. Near the bottom of Google's first page on this topic are links to recipes for kids with special needs or interests--autism, gluten-free, Easter, or pioneer recipes.  And there's a link for a specific age group--would you believe "toddlers'?!   No doubt, Recipes for Children age 1to 4 fits into that classification.   I wonder how dinner cooked by a l-year-old would taste.  Those chefs must be pretty precocious 1-year-olds!




If your child wants to take a cooking class, find out if there's a Young Chefs Academy in your area (Go to the locator section at  This franchise operation has branches in many cities in the U.S. and abroad.  Students attend classes weekly and are divided into the following age groups: KinderCooks (ages 3-5), Jr. Chefs (ages 5/6-13/14), and Sr. Chefs (those who meet specific criteria and are looking for a more in-depth culinary experience).  There are also franchise opportunities for adults who want to start their own YCA.


If YCA is not in your area, call local colleges and communities to see if they have offerings.




I was inspired (if that's not too arrogant a word to use about myself) to write this article after I read Bruce Feiler's latest book, The Secrets of Happy Families. The author is a well-known nonfiction writer who has a weekly column in the New York Times. His newest book is full of wonderful ideas about how to deal with common stressful family situations and bring your family closer together.  He talks about the importance of eating together, pointing out that the shared repast doesn't have to be dinner or even a meal. I feel confident that he would approve of this article's message--get kids involved in choosing and preparing what their family eats. Shared recipes create family ties and add much to the family memory bank.  Every adult in my family can make Aunt Joan's apple pudding. Although she passed away several years ago, we rarely celebrate a holiday without her creation.


I was again reminded of the close connection between food and family when I saw my son's recent Facebook posting: a photo displaying the hearty lunch his 9-year-old daughter Jessica had carefully wrapped for him.  And his posting of his daughter Rachel's 11th birthday party at a chocolate factory (where she and her guests were making chocolate treats with molds) demonstrated, once again, how much joy kids can get from fooling around with food. 


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