Cooking is an essential skill. Even as fast food becomes more plentiful, cooking your own meals remains the most nutritious and cost-effective way to eat.
But it’s also a skill that takes practice and patience. And when you’re working full time, going to school, and handling the usual stresses of daily adult life, you might not have the energy to learn.
This is why it is important for children and young adults to learn cooking skills while they still live with their parents. The earlier they are introduced to the culinary arts, the easier it will be for them to feed themselves—and their own families—when they are older.
And, as it turns out, there are a whole host of other reasons to let your kids help you cook (or learn to cook with you).
Here are just a few ways that cooking with your children both educates and builds bonds:
They’re More Likely to Try New Things
Kids have a very delicate sense of taste. It’s why they tend to be “picky eaters,” especially when it comes to bitter or sour food. And any parent will tell you that getting a child to eat a food they “don’t like” is harder than dental work on an angry dragon.
But a funny thing happens when kids help cook a meal. They are a lot more likely to taste something they wouldn’t normally eat, simply because they helped cook it.
Over time, this makes them a lot more likely to try new foods in general as well. Use this as an opportunity to introduce your child to the importance—and joy—of a healthy diet.
Help your child learn about eating a healthy, balanced diet by cooking meals that are nutritious as well as delicious, like this vegetarian chili recipe.
Being more open to trying new things reaches beyond the table, too. As your kids become more confident in the kitchen and with their food, they’ll have a stronger sense of confidence.
Something that was once confusing or “too hard” is now something they can do. This then transfers into the rest of their life, opening them up to new kinds of learning.
And as they grow, they’ll know that their parents supported their desire to learn, which will further strengthen the bonds between you.
Learning to Cook Teaches Them How to Learn
Cooking isn’t easy. Some recipes might be straightforward, but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy.
Even making a box of mac and cheese requires you to cook the noodles just long enough, then pour in just enough milk and use just enough butter.
But once you master the basics of cooking, there is so much room to explore. When we learn these skills as children, we have the rest of our lives to explore the culinary world!
We learn how to follow specific recipes, as well as how to tailor them to our tastes. Over time, we may even create our own recipes.
And as fun as all of this is on its own, it’s also a great learning style in general. When you involve your children while you cook, they are learning to follow directions. They are also learning how to modify those directions and how to ask questions when they don’t understand why they have to do things a certain way.
You might be wondering why your child needs to learn how to ask questions. After all, it seems like most kids are overflowing with questions! But most kids are also told to keep their questions in check, which limits their sense of wonder as they age.
By helping your child learn to ask pointed and exploratory questions, you’re doing more than teaching them a skill. You are supporting their interests and their sense of curiosity.
It builds their trust in you and teaches them that they can bring you their questions, no matter how many they have.
Cooking Involves a Lot of Basic Skills
When you think of cooking skills, your mind probably goes to knives and hot surfaces. And those are both things that children—even young children—must learn how safely handle.
But involving your kids in the kitchen teaches them skills even more basic than that.
If your child is old enough to speak, there’s a good chance they’re old enough to start picking up on colors. While it might not seem very helpful at first to have a toddler in the kitchen, they can watch from their high-chair and ‘help you’ in their own way.
You can name each food you’re working with, then tell your child the color of the food. It won’t get dinner prepared any faster… but it does get you and your child interacting while they add new words to their vocabulary.
And studies show that young children learn their words best when they learn them directly from the people in their lives.
Your children might not remember learning their colors or fruit names from you, but they will always carry with them the sense that you took the time to help them learn. This means they’ll come to you in the future with more important questions.
Pouring and weighing ingredients is a bit much to ask from a toddler. But it’s a skill that children even as young as three or four can begin to master.
Yes, it’ll be messy at first. But the more they practice, the faster their skills will improve.
And when they get used to weighing and measuring things in the kitchen, they can transfer these skills to other areas. Science lab at school won’t be nearly as intimidating when they already know their way around volumes and weights, for example.
Overcoming and Adapting
No matter how closely you follow a recipe, there will come a time when cooking doesn’t go to plan. When that happens, you either have to adapt or you scrap the whole meal and go for takeout.
And don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with takeout.
But every time the recipe goes wrong and your children work with you to adapt and still get something good on the table, it reinforces their belief that they can work out a solution. And whenever they do, it’ll remind them that you taught them that—just by letting them help in the kitchen.
You could honestly fill a book with all the reasons it’s a good idea to involve your kids in the kitchen. But the points listed above are a good starting point.
Your children will not only come away with the ability to cook for themselves—and others—but with confidence and skills they learned by working with you. And that in itself is a memory they will always hold dear.