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The first time I saw my friend's four-year-old son make pancakes all by himself was fascinating. My friend and I were chatting in the garden when the little chap brought out jam pancakes for us to try. I assumed his dad had been helping him, but no — he had made pancakes from scratch, all alone.
Surprised, I followed him back to the kitchen to take a look. He knew the recipe for pancake batter, had collected the right ingredients and mixed them, and could operate the stove responsibly all by himself. He stood on a little stool to flip his pancakes. His dad was very nearby, watching what he was doing, but did not help his son: there was no need.
This event turned my perceptions of what kids are and aren't capable of upside down. My kids, who were a few years older than him, were not capable of anything of the kind. Seeing what this little boy could do made me change my approach. We live in a society where risk-avoidance is many parents' prime goal, but could we be trimming kids' budding independence like we would trim a Bonzai tree?
Why Should You Be Cooking With Your Children?
Allowing your small kids access to your kitchen — with its many hazards — takes bravery. It's scary, and perhaps a bit controversial. It's also worth it. Here's why.
Everyone needs to eat, and home-cooked meals come with many benefits. Are you a busy, working parent who simply doesn't have much time to spare? You may think your cooking takes away from valuable time with your children, unless of course you can involve them in the process. Cooking together is bona fide quality time. Kids love seeing their own creations, love getting their hands dirty, and love the confidence you have in them.
Cooking Promotes Motor Skills
Cutting vegetables (with a moderately sharp knife, like an ordinary table knife), mixing ingredients, kneading dough, decorating cookies... all of these activities address motor skills Kindergarten teachers encourage through crafts like cutting and gluing, using playdough, and coloring within the lines. Cooking promotes motor skills, and that alone is a powerful argument in favor of letting your kids loose in the kitchen.
Is your kid just starting to learn arithmetic, or perhaps already well into division, multiplication, and fractions? Cooking together can help develop math skills, too. From measuring to fractions (cutting pizza or pie, for instance), to multiplication (doubling, tripling or quadrupling recipes) and division (the same in reverse), working in the kitchen shows children that math really does come in handy in real life. Cooking also teaches time-keeping skills. In addition (excuse the pun), kids who are struggling with math often benefit from visually seeing how concepts can play out. Cooking can facilitate that, with just a little bit of creativity.
Learn About Nutrition Together
Finally, cooking together provides a fantastic opportunity to teach your kids about healthy nutrition. You can talk about the food pyramid and different food groups, showing your children that a balanced diet is hugely important. That's good stuff, but by being involved in the kitchen, you allow your kids to get more than theory. You're not just modeling what a healthy diet looks like by putting good food in front of them, but also getting them in on the act. Kids who know how to cook, and how to cook healthy meals, are much more likely to adopt life-long healthy eating habits than those who have just been passive consumers of food.