Literacy in the Kitchen: Opportunities to Learn While Cooking

Jan 24, 2013

In previous blogs, I have opined that parents should try involving kids in the cooking process, as well as educate children about where food comes from. As a father of two young boys - each at different stages of literacy - I've been thinking about the many teachable moments that exist within the world of food. And I'd like to share my thoughts and ideas with you!

Recipes: If you can't read, you can't follow a recipe. (Thank you, captain obvious!) But I think recipes are a great way for kids to practice reading. The context of "food" within a recipe gives clues that can help decipher a new and challenging word, especially if the recipe contains fantastic photos of food. Recipes are also a practical application of novice writing skills: small words, numbered lists, point form, simple sentence structures and instructions.

Menu: Having the kids create a menu for a family dinner is a great project. My son Charlie is old enough to write the words, and Johnny gets to draw the pictures. Want to keep a five-year-old occupied for fifteen minutes? Get him to draw spaghetti. (Want to be a funny dad? Ask him to draw flour!) But seriously, folks, how cute would it be to have a handwritten/drawn menu framed on the table the next time your in-laws come for dinner? Total parenting points.

Shopping Lists: Why not have the kids make the shopping list? I always seem to run out of the most simple ingredients most often anyway, like milk, eggs, bacon, bread, bacon, juice, bacon, butter, oil, bacon, lettuce, bacon, beans, bacon ... you get it. Those are "word wall" words if I've ever seen them! Remember my rant about real food? Real food is usually pretty easy to spell. When was the last time you ran out of butylated hydroxyanisole or propyl gallate?

Packaging: Encourage kids to read the packaging. It's a great way to explain to them why they can or can't have certain products. I read the ingredients to my kids. If there's no food in it, we don't buy it. "Sugar" is a much easier word to read than "glucose/fructose."

Food for Thought: Those hard-to-read ingredients are great research projects. Google words that are unfamiliar to find out what they are.

Vive le Francais: I don't know about you, but most of my early French was learned from cereal boxes. Thanks flocons de maïs, you've taught me well.  And "Oh no, this milk is meilleur avant tomorrow! Drink up!"... and so forth.

That's it, folks. My thoughts on bringing literacy into the kitchen. Happy reading, and happy eating!

Patrick Engel has been cooking professionally for 15 years. After graduating from George Brown College in Toronto, and training in the kitchens of Rodney's Oyster House and Bymark Restaurant, Patrick relocated to Niagara's wine region, working at Inn on the Twenty, followed by six years as resident chef instructor at The Good Earth Cooking School. Patrick is currently the chef at Hospice Niagara's Stabler Centre and associate chef at The Garrison House in Niagara-on-the Lake. Patrick lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, with his wife, Marnie, and their two boys, Charlie (7) and Johnny (5).