Category Archives: Fun for Kids

Kids in The Kitchen: 10 Tips for Teaching Kids to Cook

My mother never shooed us out of the kitchen. Instead she put us to work! Since I am from a very big family (12 children), in a word, it was chaos, but it was beautiful chaos. I prepared my first full meal when I was only 8 years old. My mother grew up in a family where everything was cooked from cans, so it was very important to her that we know how to cook from scratch. As a teenager she taught herself to cook real food and then took over the family meals. One of the first things that I ever learned how to make was bread, and the first job we had as kids was to knead the dough. I can imagine now that my mother may not have wanted to do all of the kneading herself – she baked bread every Saturday – but at the time it was great fun!

When I was in college, I found out that not everyone’s mothers thought that learning to cook was important – I taught a few roommates how to do some simple things – like read recipes, boil water to make pasta, make dinner rolls, and to bake cookies (a skill that no enterprising – and starving – college girl should be without!) But I appreciate the skills I learned as a child even more as a mom. After meeting people who didn’t even know how to boil water or follow simple instructions on a box of rice-a-roni (which I honestly had never even HEARD of until I was in college), I decided that ALL of my kids would learn to cook because there is nothing sadder than an adult college student struggling on a small budget, who can’t even take care of themselves in this most basic way.

So here it is! My list of ten tips to help you teach your kids how to cook:

  1. Never shoo your children out of the kitchen. Instead, put them to work! Even small children can do something, even if you just give them a small piece of dough to play with. At 3, measure ingredients and let them put the measured ingredients into the mixing bowl. At 4 and 5, you can hand them a vegetable peeler. At 6, let them read the ingredients out of the recipe book and show them how to measure. You can set them up with a knife to chop vegetables (supervised of course) and at 7, let them measure out ingredients for you, or even try a simple recipe all by themselves. At 8, let them prepare a simple meal for the whole family without any help.  Not only have they learned an important skill, but they have realized that they can be an important member of the family, and they have earned confidence!
  2. Provide your children with easy access to healthy recipes that are easy to follow, and that are in a format that is easy to use and can take a beating. You may be interested in my Healthy Kid’s Recipe Cards, which you can find online here
  3. Hold a weekly family night or regular family activities so that you can provide additional opportunities for your children to make snacks or treats to showcase their newly learned skills.
  4. Praise them when it is warranted. Do not overdo it by ignoring faults and flops though – good food is expensive and good instruction that includes correction when needed helps avoid unnecessary waste. I recommend a sandwich style praise and correction model. If the recipe turned out badly, praise them for what they did right (wow, you did this all by yourself?) and then provide gentle instructions (next time, call me in if you need help with measuring the salt.) Then another good thing (It looks like you baked these for just the right amount of time!)Your child will want to know what went wrong so that they can make it better the next time around.
  5. Expect your boys to learn as well as your girls! Boys need these skills just as much as anyone now! You can’t make the mistake of assuming that your son’s wife will know how to cook or you may end up with grand kids who are part of the McD’s generation. Besides, it might be just the thing that will help him catch the girl of his dreams! My husband cooked for me on our first date. Children who learn to cook are less expensive to support through college, and will be healthier as well.
  6. As your children get older, do not hesitate to give them more responsibilities. Alternate the responsibilities for making breakfasts, allow them to pack their own lunches for school, and assign them one night a week to make dinner for the family.
  7. Always verbally thank the one responsible for the meal publicly around the dinner table. Point out the best parts of the meal and say exactly what you like about it. This is not the forum for corrections unless the child acknowledges something himself – like if a cake fell or if there was too much pepper in the gravy.  If they point it out themselves  in this setting, you can down play it for the moment (“yes, but the potatoes are perfect!”) and help them fix it later.
  8. When your child is old enough, help them plan a month of menus and execute a shopping trip. This lets your child learn the logistics of planning a meal from start to finish, including what constitutes a balanced meal, what you have already on hand and which items they will need to buy, and how much those things actually cost.  A child should be able to plan one day’s meals at the age of 7 or 8, a week’s worth of menus at 9 or 10, and a month of menus at 11 or 12.
  9. Don’t hold back on letting your child make a complicated recipe. I made bread on my own for the first time when I was not even 8 years old. You as the parent can trust your instincts about what your child is capable of at what age. Allow your child to challenge herself even if you are not sure if she can do it on her own. I was pleasantly surprised the first time my daughter made apple pie.
  10. Avoid relying on boxed items or pre-made foods for teaching kids how to cook. Children can read and understand recipes and it is a good opportunity for kids to learn about measurements, how ingredients work in a recipe, and many other things that kids can’t learn by making ramen noodles or microwavable boxed macaroni and cheese. Children are capable of much more than we give them credit for, and besides, teaching from scratch allows your child to form good nutritional habits early on, which will allow them to have a healthier lifestyle and a better quality of life.

Weird Science: Experimenting with Borax

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Weird Science

Borax Crystals:

  1. Make a shape with a pipe-cleaner, making sure it can fit in the jar.
  2. Fill jar 3/4 full with boiling water.
  3. Slowly add 4 Tbsp of borax, stirring after each tablespoon. (Add borax until you see it a small amount collecting on the bottom of the jar)
  4. Tie a piece of string to the pipe-cleaner and hang it from a pencil in the jar. Make sure it is completely submerged.
  5. set the jar in a place where it will not be disturbed, such as a window sill, and let it stand for 24 hours. Check progress periodically to see how the crystals are forming.
  6. When it is done, you can hang the crystal in the window and watch it sparkle!