Kids In The Kitchen

Summer is quickly approaching and your kids will be looking to you to help them fill their days with fun activities. One easy way to keep children busy this summer is to get those kids in the kitchen. While this most likely means more work for you, both you and your kids will have a great time learning and cooking together.

Cooking is a life skill that is essential to our well being but it also helps reinforce all areas of academic work. Reading skills are practiced with reading the recipes and directions as well as reading the nutrition labels on different food items. Science concepts are reinforced through learning to balance meals nutritionally as well as learning the chemistry of food and how cooking, refrigerating and storing foods alter the appearance and taste of foods. Math skills are learned and practiced by measuring, adding, subtracting, timing recipes and sorting. Geography and history facts can be learned just by doing a little research into the types of recipes from different areas of the world as well as what types of fruits and vegetables are found in the geographical areas you are interested in. You could even focus on a different country or region every week when planning your weekly menu. This gets the kids involved from the planning stages all the way through to the fun eating stage.

Children also learn good time management and organizational skills when they learn to cook. What happens if you donít pay attention to the amount of time the cookies are in the oven? Well, you get cookies your dog wonít even eat. (Trust me on that one) Your kids will eventually learn to clean as they go along in the kitchen, but itís not an easy lesson. Most moms and dads have trouble with this one Ė I know I do on a daily basis.

Not only is cooking fun as well as educational, but kids love being a part of family meals. Family meals save on eating out and they can keep your kids out of trouble. Studies have shown that children who eat regular meals with their families are less likely to get involved with drug and alcohol abuse. Below are a few ways you can get your kids involved with family meals this summer and at any time of the year.

Children as young as 2 years old can help with setting the table. Paper products are a good way to train your kids in proper table setting while making sure that there aren't any accidents with breaking dishes. Once the kids get older, you can move on to regular dinnerware without many incidents of broken dishes or glasses.

Children younger than 4 years old are able to help with the cooking in a variety of ways. They love to wash things so fill a clean sink or dishpan with cold water and let them wash fruits and vegetables. They are also quite good with tearing lettuce and spinach for use in salads and recipes. The tearing actually helps them develop fine motor skills that will come in handy when they start learning to write. Kids that are this young also love to stir recipes. Make sure you use large bowls to prevent spilling and splashing from over-exuberant stirrers. Instant puddings are great ways to learn to stir with little kids. Plus, they are ready quickly so the kids can enjoy what they have made.

Starting at around 4 years old, kids love to use cookie cutters in addition to their stirring skills. If you have a plastic cheese grater then they can begin to learn how to grate softer cheeses such as mozzarella. This would be a great family pizza night activity. This age group is fun because children are starting to develop their own tastes as well as developing a new independence from mommy and daddy. The 4-6 year olds can also help with washing produce and sorting into fruit and vegetable drawers. They are also capable of helping to put away the groceries after a visit to the grocery store. This helps them learn their way around the kitchen and is a very important part of learning to cook.

About age 6 is when children are able to begin to learn cutting skills. Bananas, cooked beans, potatoes, and strawberries are all very easy to cut with a heavy duty plastic knife. Be sure to supervise your kids closely and teach them proper safety skills when learning to use a knife.

Children approximately age 8 years can learn to use a microwave with adult supervision. This is a great time to teach them how to make instant oatmeal or macaroni and cheese.

Starting at age 10, kids can begin using the oven while an adult is present. This opens the door for homemade breads and muffins as well as cookies and pizzas!

At around age 12, you can begin to teach proper top of the stove techniques. Grilled sandwiches and pancakes are great to start your kids off on the right foot. At this age, children think itís great if you let them prepare the entire meal with just supervision. Grilled cheese and tomato soup are a big hit as well as eggs and pancakes. Make sure to emphasize that they are not to use the stove unless an approved adult is present.

By the age of 16, most children can prepare meals with very little, if any, supervision. This is a great time to schedule a kidsí night in your house. The kids can prepare the family meal for the evening as well as handle clean up. In some homes, this becomes a cherished family tradition.

Important safety rules to enforce when cooking with children:

1. Wash hands with warm soapy water before handling any food! Also wash hands after handling raw eggs and meats.
2. Oven/stove respect Ė must be able to see into a pot on the stove without using a stool before children are allowed to cook solo in the kitchen. 3. Wash utensils and countertops after use.
4. Always ask permission to use the kitchen.
5. Wear an apron to protect your clothing.
6. Know where the fire extinguisher is in the kitchen.
7. NEVER run in the kitchen Ė always walk.

More kids kitchen safety rules can be found at http://www.ciakids.com/forkids/safety.html.

As an example of how you can let your kids help in the kitchen with just about any recipe, letís look at a chili recipe for Day Before Chili. (Note:chicken or vegetable broth can be substituted for the beer called for in the recipe) First, print out enough copies of the recipe for each member of the family that is of reading age.

Children between the ages of 4 and 11 can wash and dry the bell peppers. A 10 year old can begin chopping the vegetables. A 6-8 year old can open and drain the cans of kidney beans (the can openers that donít create sharp edges are great for this). While this is going on you or your child that is over the age of 12 can begin browning the ground beef. The 6-8 year olds can measure the spices into small bowls, or just one bowl if you prefer.

Once the beef is browned, assist your child with draining the fat off of the meat. You can then have your older child add remaining ingredients in order while the 6-8 year old reads the directions. A child that is 6 or younger can operate the timer for 3 minutes at a time.

Refrigerate overnight, and reheat approximately Ĺ hour before mealtime the next day. While reheating, younger children can help set the table while children older than 8 can grate the cheese. A 12 year old or older child can chop the onions for serving. Now you can eat! You can adopt any recipe for use in a child friendly kitchen Ė just make sure you read the recipe and plan ahead.

Learning to cook is the beginning of a healthy lifestyle. Children that cook their own food are more confident and tend to try new things more often. As kids learn to cook, they are learning valuable life lessons that will stay with them always. Have fun teaching your kids those life lessons and trying new foods together. You will definitely make memories together that will last a lifetime even if a few of your recipes donít turn out quite the way you expected.

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