How to Get Kids Involved in Cooking

By the age of 18, Amber Kelly had already won the Food Network Star Kids , wrote her own cookbook , launched a successful YouTube show, and became a finalist in Jamie Oliver’s Search for a FoodTube Star. But she started working as a chef, hanging out with her parents in the kitchen.

“Cooking has always been something we all did together,” says Kelly. “My mom taught me the basics. I started cutting the bananas with a butter knife. I helped my mother a lot, she either stood at the stove or did a big cut, but I was so comfortable in the kitchen before I used heat or large chef’s knives. ” Your child may not be destined to be a Food Network star, but there are a few things you can do right now to make them feel at home in the kitchen.

Starting out

This level of comfort is important for parents of children of all ages who want to introduce them to cooking and healthy eating. The skills children need to complete certain tasks obviously differ by age, but as Kelly points out, there are jobs for every skill level.

“A good starting point is to do everything together,” she says. “You can all pick a recipe from a cookbook or on the Internet, and then go to the grocery store and make it a full day’s activity, not a chore. If you turn this dish into something fun and everyone has a role to play, regardless of age or level of preparation, they might be of some help with this dish. It makes it really rewarding to spend a couple of hours on something and then sit down and eat it. “

Until the age of three, most children can safely help with small kitchen chores such as washing vegetables, stirring, or adding ingredients to dishes. As they get older and learn math concepts, they can be reinforced in the kitchen as they learn to measure ingredients and add them to dishes. They can also mix the ingredients with a spoon or by hand.

Children over the age of five are ready to start using small knives, scissoring, rubbing food, setting the table, and helping with cleaning. And by about eight years old, they are ready to start heating things on the stove or in the microwave under some supervision.

Most of these skills can be learned in the kitchen with your parents, but most communities have outside resources as well.

“I went to cooking classes at our local organic food market and especially remembered that I was too young to be allowed into knife lessons, I was only 10 then,” says Kelly. “But I learned a lot by helping my mom.”

Receiving an award

Teaching children how to cook has a number of benefits. When young and doing small tasks, it helps to train and strengthen fine motor skills, and they also learn about textures by touching different types of food or materials needed for cooking. It can also help build confidence or a sense of accomplishment as they contribute to the finished product. Through the involvement of multiple family members, it also helps build strong bonds and closeness between parents and children.

“Cooking is a really big factor in why we [my family] are so close,” says Kelly. “This is what we all loved. When I launched my YouTube channel, and it grew into a business, because I was very young, I needed the help of my whole family, so we kind of ran this business together as a family. That was really great too. “

Cooking skills also help introduce children to concepts such as nutrition and healthy, balanced meals. Kelly notes that when she was in second grade, classmates teased her for always having homemade food for lunch rather than prepackaged processed snacks.

“I wanted my mom to be that big Food Network star and prove all my friends were wrong,” she said. “I wanted to show that the things we cooked and ate were really delicious.”

As she gets older, peer teasing has turned into curiosity. The increased public awareness and acceptance of healthy, natural foods over the past few years have also helped change the mindset she remembers when she was younger.

“I definitely think the older I get, the more my peers agree with my message,” says Kelly. “Healthy eating has almost become a trend. As the message I spread became more popular, it helped a lot [my peers] to understand that it is okay to eat healthy foods, not just celery sticks and carrots; you can eat delicious things that will be useful to you too. “

Forming sustainable habits

The habits that parents instill in their children can also be started in the kitchen. Learning early on the importance of healthy eating and that cooking is a valuable life skill can have positive consequences for the rest of their lives.

“When you’re young, you kind of walk away from what you know and what your parents are packing for you,” Kelly said. “I was open to [healthy food] because that’s what we cooked at home. I didn’t always like it, I didn’t eat the same foods as my friends – it kind of made you feel like an outsider. But in hindsight, I realized that it taught me really good habits, made me more addicted to food and helped me build a career. “

Cooking and food are often thought of primarily in the context of the need for food to survive. But there are also creative and artistic elements in food preparation that children can start learning at an early age. They will learn how spices or other ingredients can significantly change the taste of a dish, for better or for worse. They will also learn how important it is to follow a process from start to finish in order to create something new.

Since many children learn online during a pandemic, cooking is also a good task to keep those feeling lonely or anxious and in need of a creative outlet busy. When families are isolated from each other for long periods of time, cooking something new is also a way to maintain healthy relationships.

“We’re all spinning,” says Kelly. “My sister, who is 14 years old, also cooks. It’s fun for us because we all have to find the recipe and prepare the dish for the rest of our family; it brings us all together at the end of the day. During this time, everyone spends a lot of time in their home with their family, and this makes it new and fresh for us. “

Kelly’s work on her show and cookbook focused on the idea that cooking should be fun, approachable, and not intimidating for children – and parents play an important role in communicating these lessons.

“My goal is for children to come to the kitchen and realize that food is more than just a means to maintain life; you can enjoy the process and what you eat, ”says Kelly. “I am not a professional, so having a book from someone of the same level or from a peer helps [make] it less tedious to get into the kitchen.”

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