8 Tips for Cooking with Kids

Cooking can help kids develop essential learning and motor skills. Here are some tips to get them started.

Cooking with kids is worth the time and mess, and even the odd inedible dish. Along with learning skills like chopping, they’re also honing their reading, math, science and problem solving. Here’s how to get your little sous-chef started.

1. Pick a project
Set aside time on a weekend (do not attempt this on a Tuesday night), and tackle a dish together: Browse cookbooks, shop for ingredients and see it through all the way to plating, which engages their artistic side.

2. Don’t hover
Fight the urge to follow your kids around with a cloth, and try not to take over when the quinoa spills. Freedom will make them feel competent and confident. (Remember: To make an omellete, you’ve got to break some eggs. Things will get messy.)

3. Give them power
How should we top the pizza? What should we fill the burrito with? Is there a pasta shape that works best with this kind of sauce? Let kids call the shots. And enjoy the occasional “avant-garde” creation.

4. Start with breakfast
Spend a lazy Sunday morning making the easiest meal of the day: Eggs any style, pancakes or waffles, fruit salad and smoothies.

5. Play with dough
Put her mad Play-Doh skills to good use. Bake bread, twist up pretzels or try something new to you, like naan or English muffins.

6. Engage their senses
Handing her a wooden spoon isn’t the only way to get her cooking. Explore food together: Listen to the sound of bacon frying or a bottle of fizzy water when the top is unscrewed; feel the softness of fresh sage versus spiny rosemary; or blindfold her and have her identify spices by sniffing and condiments by tasting.

7. Keep it active
There are so many tasks to keep little hands busy and give kids a sense of accomplishment: shaking and sprinkling on spices and toppings; pounding chicken cutlets in a zip-top bag with a wooden mallet; crushing bread crumbs or cereal for coating; juicing citrus; cracking eggs; tearing up lettuce; “painting” oil on a pan with a pastry brush; smashing ingredients with a mortar and pestle; crushing nuts; or whisking salad dressing.

8. Any way you slice it
When it comes to knife skills, safety is key. Start small. Getting your kids to cut mushrooms with a butter knife is a good way to start building their skills. (The fancy filigreed carrot sculptures can wait till they’re older.)

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