5 Life Skills Kids Learn When They Cook

Apr 4, 2016

Making meals is a big part of parenthood — whether you love being the chef or you’re just trying to keep your family fed.

When kids get involved with meal prep, it can make things a whole lot messier and take way more time — but it also has big benefits in terms of life skills. 

It teaches kids about planning and patience

Cooking or baking is somewhere between an art and a science — there’s room for creative chaos, but there are also ordered rules to be followed.

For kids to fully appreciate how much work goes into mealtime, they should be part of every step:

  • choosing a recipe
  • searching the fridge and pantry for ingredients
  • making the list for extra grocery shopping
  • washing and chopping and mixing the items in the right order
  • watching you set the stove

Your kids will understand the importance of logical planning, along with patience and delayed gratification (after all that work, they’ll still have to wait for those muffins to bake and cool).

It introduces concepts related to science and math

Cooking and baking offer easy opportunities to compare fractions or convert measurements, whether it’s reinforcing a ½ cup is twice the size of ¼ cup, or that one tablespoon is the same as three teaspoons.

Depending on the recipe, there may also be multiplication or division.

“We use a scale to measure most dry ingredients and ask our kids to pay attention to the numbers as they’re adding ingredients, asking 'is this enough?'" says Karen Long, a Canadian mom of two now living in California.

“Every once in a while, we will compare weight per volume — measuring in cups and then comparing weight. We do this at the grocery store, too.”

The kitchen also offers lots of basic science lessons when it comes to chemistry. Discuss why baking powder makes things rise or why we need hot temperatures in the oven to cook.

It is a great way to learn about nutrition

"When kids are involved in meal and snack preparation, they learn about the importance and value of eating whole foods (instead of processed foods) and preparing their food from scratch," says Sarah Remmer, a Calgary dietitian and nutrition blogger.

It also gives kids the knowledge and tools they need to feel confident preparing nutritious food for themselves in the future.

When kids get up close and personal with their food, they start learning about variety and balance in their food choices. They also grow their palate and creativity by exploring different flavour combinations.

Plus, cooking and baking show kids the building blocks of their favourite recipes. Seeing raw ingredients transformed into something new can be mind-blowing. This is an important lesson for kids with food allergies — it reminds them that they can’t always see the peanuts, so they need to ask.

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It reinforces important lessons about staying safe

Kitchens can be full of dangers — sharp objects, heavy pots, very hot surfaces. It's key to have safety talks before and during time in the kitchen with kids.  

Parents will have their own rules for what kids can and can't do in the kitchen. What do you feel comfortable with?

“Since my son was only three when we started our baking adventures, he was not allowed near the oven when things were going in or coming out,” says Jillian Kendall, a mother of three in Toronto. As kids get older and more comfortable in the kitchen, they can start using the oven, stove and sharp knives with supervision. 

The kitchen is a great place to teach kids about hygiene too — how to wash hands and properly handle certain ingredients, like raw eggs.

It’s a great way for families to bond

For many busy families, getting kids involved with cooking starts out as a necessity and then becomes a treasured bonding activity — whether it’s passing down old family recipes or creating new ones.

“We started around age two with my son. I was trying to figure out a way to have him near and safe and part of the action, but without catching or starting fires [during dinner prep]," says Yvonne Gomez, a Port Coquitlam mom of two. She built him a kitchen observation tower after finding instructions online. 

“He’s more involved now. Things get really messy and I have let go of that. Measurements are more approximations as preschoolers have fast ninja moves,” she says. “He loves it because it’s like roleplay and he’s proud to share his work with his dad and grandparents, and I love it because he will listen and focus.”

“And, of course, we both love the outcome — getting to eat all the food!”

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Read more from Erik here.

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no hair and works in communications. He and his wife are the proud parents of a nine-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy, both of whom are pretty great. He received his MA in journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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