6 Ways to Start Teaching Your Kids How to Cook

It all starts with cooking. If you know how to cook, then you’ll be able to nourish yourself with healthy, fresh food for the least amount of money. But in order to cook, one must be taught, and usually that starts at home. Many parents do not teach their kids how to cook, though, because they are unwilling to relinquish control. There’s the fear of sharp knives and hot stoves, the potentially wasted ingredients, the inevitable heap of dirty dishes, and the extra time it takes to prepare anything with a kid helping (or inhibiting) the process.

Teaching kids how to cook should be an essential part of child-raising, on par with potty-training and reading. After all, the extent of one’s “kitchen literacy” has significant bearing on maintaining personal health, as well as saving a lot of money by not eating out. Cooking from scratch is an act of rebellion against the industrialization of food production and the insidious pervasiveness of processed foods. It’s the best way to source local and seasonal ingredients while supporting local growers. On a daily basis, only one-quarter of Canadians eat a meal that’s cooked from scratch, despite the mounting evidence that home cooking is the best path to health, and a 2012 study from the University of Alberta, cited in the Globe and Mail, found that children who help cook are 10 percent more likely to eat vegetables. Here are some ideas for how to get started:

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Assign kitchen-related chores

credit: Danielle Nelson

Toddlers are capable of helping set the table. My three-year-old lays out the cutlery and plates, and my five-year-old carries dishes of food to the table and clears away the dirty plates. Ask your young kids to help sweep, dry dishes, put away ingredients, empty the cutlery basket in the dishwasher. Hanging out in the kitchen will make them more comfortable with it.

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Start with simple food assembly

credit: Brian Talbot

Breakfast and snacks are easy meals for kids to assemble on their own. Let them pour cereal, milk, and juice, scoop yogurt, spread cream cheese or peanut butter on crackers, peel and wash fruit, make toast and sandwiches, etc.

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Teach basic safety skills

credit: Evelyn Lim

From age 5, it becomes easier for kids to help out with actual cooking. You can teach safe knife skills, starting with soft, easy-to-cut ingredients such as bananas and tomatoes, then moving to cucumbers, onions, apples, and potatoes. Teach kids how to stir steaming pots without getting burned and how to take a hot pan out of the oven. Show them how to measure dry and liquid ingredients, peel vegetables, grate cheese, crush garlic or spices, grease a baking pan, spin lettuce, knead bread dough, and rinse rice.

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Cook together what interests your kids

credit: Ella

Choose recipes that your kids want to eat, as that serves as excellent motivation to learn how to prepare their favourite foods. (Apparently it was my love of chocolate chip cookies that kickstarted my lifelong love of baking at age four.) They will want to make those same dishes again and again, reinforcing their knowledge of the recipes, learning how to make variations, and increasing their confidence in the kitchen.

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Step away from the kitchen and let them be

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This is a hard step for parents to take, but it has to be done. Accept that there will be messes and even some culinary disasters, but kids need to be allowed to make those mistakes. I cringe when I think of some of the concoctions I made as a kid – blue cupcakes, over-salted minestrone soup, a batch of inedible cookies whose recipe came from the Crisco box – and yet those were all integral parts of becoming the dedicated home cook that I am now.

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Insist on clean-up help

credit: Jeremy Hiebert

A big part of cooking meals is doing the dishes afterward, and kids should not be exempt from that less pleasant task. Have them clear the table, load dishes into the dishwasher, wipe surfaces, and sweep. They might even discover it’s rather fun to mess around in a sink full of bubbles and hot water.