What is a meal but edible chemistry? Monitoring the behaviors of varying chemicals when heated or cooled is just as important in a laboratory as it is in the kitchen. It may be even more critical. Though safety is a concern in both settings, there is a special kind of sadness that comes with throwing away the remains of the intended cake that came out burnt from the oven. This is why cooking with kids is essential. Not only is it a crucial life skill that all should learn, but it is also a fantastic way to invoke both the creative and analytical sides. Why does one version of this recipe taste different than the other? How can the ingredients be changed to accommodate this flavor over that one? The simple act of including them in meal prep may lead to a Master Chef in the making.
According to KJ Dell’antonia and Margaux Laskey via the New York Times, a kid who cooks is a kid who tries. Though it may not turn a picky eater into one willing to try anything, they will likely be less quick to dismiss something unfamiliar. It could also be an opportunity to discuss what may have gone wrong with the recipe. Was it too salty? Was there anything likable about the meal? Recreating the same or a similar recipe at home could be just the thing that can make a meal they dislike into one they love. And it can turn a recipe they love into something even better.
Learning fractions and carefully reading instructions has never been exciting. But it gets much more meaningful when there's a meal on the other end. Melissa Clark, the author of "Kid in the Kitchen", says that better math skills and reading comprehension can come from allowing kids to participate in meal preparation. Doubling the ingredients or scaling back if fewer people will be dining than the recipe serves are sneaky ways to mix a little bit of math into chemistry. After all, learning fractions the old-fashioned way does not taste as good as muffins. That's just the truth.
Of course, imparting the basics of cooking to a child means imparting the basics of kitchen safety as well. Duff Goldman, author of "Super Good Baking for Kids" emphasizes teaching respect for the tools of the trade. The proper way of holding a knife to chop and how to handle a hot dish, for example. Ensuring that hands are clean and minds are focused can make things easier for everyone. Moreover, it is a great way to encourage cleaning up little messes throughout the process instead of one enormous mess at the end. Hopefully, they will take that message to heart even when kitchen time is over.
For kids just starting, no-bake recipes and ones that involve as few ingredients as possible can be a promising first step. Depending on the confidence of the supervising chef, recipes with varying heat and complexity can progress the chef-in-training's skills. But it is good to remember that helping with dinner is not just about cooking. Sometimes it is laying out the plates and forks and cleaning up afterward. All are essential and even if cooking isn’t the child’s passion, they can still contribute and learn the lessons that time in the kitchen has to offer.
Kids working in a kitchen with all the sharp knives and hot surfaces can be a terrifying thought. Anything can happen without someone there to keep them safe. However, despite the danger, there are essential lessons to be taught in this environment. Focus and proper safety protocols are crucial in addition to chemistry, math, and reading comprehension. Above all else, the freedom to be creative and experimental can come with them being allowed to try. After all, what is a Master Chef but a scientist with a skill for curating flavors?
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Dell'antonia, KJ, and Margaux Laskey. “Cooking with Kids: 5 Reasons You Should Be Doing It.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Sept. 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/03/dining/cooking-with-kids-5-reasons-you-should-be-doing-it.html.
“Kid Chef Recipes.” Allrecipes, https://www.allrecipes.com/recipes/15096/everyday-cooking/family-friendly/kid-friendly/kid-chefs/.
La Corte, Michael. “14 Easy Recipes Kids Can Help You Make.” Delish, 22 June 2022, https://www.delish.com/cooking/g499/kids-cooking-recipes/.
Negrin, Julie. “Cooking with Kids without Going Insane.” Food Network, https://www.foodnetwork.com/how-to/articles/cooking-with-kids-without-going-insane.
Owens, Joann. “Master Chef-to-Be: 40 Easy Recipes to Cook with Kids.” Lifehack, 24 Feb. 2015, https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/master-chef-40-easy-recipes-cook-with-kids.html.
Tolin, Lisa. “How to Teach Your Kids to Cook - without Setting the Kitchen on Fire.” TODAY.com, TODAY, 22 Sept. 2020, https://www.today.com/food/kids-kitchen-cookbooks-easy-recipes-help-teach-kids-cook-t191886.