Cooking With Your Kids for the Holidays

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If any mothers out there are at all like my mom, then you love cooking for your family. Nothing warms your heart more than your kids telling you what a great cook you are and how much they love your special (insert your world-renowned culinary masterpiece here). I’m also guessing there are times when you wish you had a few more helpers in the kitchen too, right? What if I told you that there are able-bodied assistants just yearning for the chance to help you beat an egg, stir that pot, and butter those biscuits. That’s right, teaching a child to cook can provide some welcome relief for parents in addition to promoting family bonding and allowing young people to develop valuable life skills. And what better time to learn than the holiday season when there is always something going on in the kitchen

Now it’s true that cooking with children will take time, patience, and often a little extra clean up, but the rewards will greatly outweigh the effort. Along with having an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, kids can learn at an early age how to prepare nutritious meals using items in their own pantry. But that’s just the beginning, because there are also other benefits to cooking as a family. In fact, a report by the American Heart Association on obesity in children and teens claimed cooking with your kids may reduce the number of meals eaten outside the home, allow more structured time for family meals, offer healthier and low-calorie foods, as well as encouraging more involvement from children in meal planning, shopping, and food preparation. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal doesn’t it? And those are just some of the short- term benefits of sharing the kitchen with your kids. Experts agree that teaching your children to cook at a young age will help them develop better eating habits as adults, increase their self confidence; all the while teaching them skills they can use for the rest of their lives.

O.K., so now you know the benefits of cooking with your kids, you’re probably wondering the best way to get started. Most likely, dinner will be the best meal to begin with, since it is one of the few times that the whole family is together. It may be a good idea to have your kids gain confidence in the kitchen with a few simple meals before they dive in and start cooking the Christmas ham. Start them with something easy. Spaghetti with bread and salad, sandwiches with carrots and celery sticks, or English muffin pizzas are a few meals that can get you and your child started. Who knows, we as adults might even benefit from these simple yet health conscious meals! For most kids it will be the first time in a kitchen, so go over food preparation step by step. Start with stressing the basics like cleaning the prep area, hand washing, safe usage of knives, utensils, and appliances, and proper serving methods. Don’t forget to emphasize cleanup as a necessary part of cooking. You may even want to rotate responsibilities or take turns on who cleans up the kitchen. Once children get acclimated to these basic kitchen fundamentals, you can move on to those fancier recipes with more extensive preparation required. Just remember to start slowly and gradually increase the difficulty level.

To begin with, start kids off with simple skills like peeling, rolling, juicing, mashing, removing husks from corn, washing vegetables in a colander, measuring and pouring ingredients, and basic hand mixing. Once they master these proficiencies you can move on to more advanced culinary skills like using the electric mixer, operating a can opener or food processor, grating cheese, stirring food over the stove, and cutting fruits and vegetables. Always remember to make sure you provide proper supervision, especially when using potentially dangerous equipment or utensils.

And last but not least, enjoy yourself! Let your time in the kitchen be a time to share together with your kids, while teaching them skills that will last for a lifetime. Good luck, and hopefully you’ll have some Holiday meals that allow the whole family to participate!

Bill Stone is 4-H Youth Development Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.