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5 Good Reasons You Should Encourage Your Kids to Cook at an Early Age

Article after article in the news shares grim statistics about the widening waistlines and related health problems of today’s youth. Could one of the best (and most rewarding) remedies for these serious problems be lurking in your kitchen?

1. Kids who cook usually end up being more knowledgeable about and interested in fresh, healthy ingredients than those who don’t.

It’s fun for young cooks to work with colorful fruits and vegetables when they first start helping out in the kitchen. Letting your children help out assembling ingredients for a meal, using melon ballers, small ice cream scoops, small cookie cutters, and plastic knives to help put together a delicious fruit salad, etc. can be a great way for smaller children to enjoyably and safely contribute to family meals.

Depending on their maturity level, you may also want to start working with your older children to learn the proper and safe knife skills needed to help with more elaborate meals. Of course, proper adult supervision is always a must.

2. Kids who are comfortable in the kitchen are more likely to make healthier and much more diverse choices in the long run when it comes to their own nutrition.

Not surprisingly, an interest in cooking at a young age often leads to the development of an expanded palate; making meal planning more interesting and less challenging than it is for the parents of children who left to their own devices would happily eat such nutritionally dubious meals as hot dogs and boxed mac and cheese 365 days a year.

Best of all, kids who cook tend to be much more willing to try new and unusual foods than their non-cooking counterparts.

Being raised in an Italian home, I was exposed to a wide variety of tastes not commonly found in mass produced tv dinners. As a result, I now happily enjoy eating the foods of just about any cuisine. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve being taught to cook by my old, Italian grandmother.

Another good way to encourage your children to become intrepid food explorers is to take them to farmer’s markets so they can see what the foods they eat look and taste like at their freshest, meet the farmers and cooks who regularly work with such bounty, as well as to sample a variety of delicious and homemade foods in an inviting, non-stuffy atmosphere.

3. Cooking young helps give children a healthy sense of responsibility and self reliance that can help them build a balanced sense of confidence and independence.

Even small children can be encouraged to make such no-cook snacks and meals as tuna or cheese sandwiches or spread some peanut butter on celery for an after-school nosh, help mix pudding by hand, and use cookie cutters to cut fun shapes out from dough.

Older children can learn how to make pasta and simple sauces, help out with basic food preparation, bake with supervision, as well as use food processors and blenders to make smoothies, shakes, pestos, homemade salad dressings, and salsas.

Later, when they are of college age and/or moving into their first apartments, such early kitchen experiences will help them make healthier and more financially sensible choices than just having Pizza Hut on speed dial or regularly hitting the McDonalds’ drive-thru.

4. Cooking teaches valuable life skills, encourages empathy and caring, and is a fun way to strengthen your family bonds.

After years of cooking meals for your family, you may find yourself stuck in a culinary rut. But everything is new and exciting to the young chefs helping out in your kitchen, and working with food is full of sights, smells, and tastes that will excite your child as they experience everything for the first time.

You may find that cooking with your children helps you rediscover a sense of play and creative experimentation that you’d forgotten about as you teach your children about various spice and flavor combinations.

Additionally, kids who cook learn practical math skills and gain a sense of visual proportion as they learn to use measuring spoons and cups as well as convert and work with solid and liquid measurements.

Cooking also encourages creativity and organizational skills as your child first follows (and later is inspired to improve on) various recipes, assembles ingredients, and helps plan a meal.

5. Who knows, your kid could be the next Thomas Keller.

Many of the best chefs and cooks, including Thomas Keller and Anthony Bourdain started out helping in the kitchen at an early age.

As it says in this CBSNews.Com article about Anthony Bourdain:

“Bourdain’s mother Gladys is a copy editor at The New York Times today, but when Bourdain was a boy, she was a stay-at-home mom in New Jersey, and an enthusiastic amateur chef.

‘He would be curious…we had a great kitchen - and he decorated the gingerbread men at Christmas as a kid,’ she said. ‘So he always had this interest in good taste, good smells. From a very young age, he loved to try new things.’

His first summer in France, visiting his father’s family, a 10-year-old Bourdain ate his first oyster, and his world was never the same.

‘It was an early exposure to eating French that really resonated later,’ he said. ‘The power of those early experiences with a good oyster - in a very visceral way you remember those things.’

12 year old Joey Yarwick of San Diego recently won the Next Gourmet Burger Kids’ Recipe Contest with a burger featuring sirloin and melted brie on a croissant. More than 10,000 kids entered the contest, a sign of how popular cooking has become for the younger set.

England’s 10 year old Rumaanah Patel won Canned Food UK’s kid’s cooking contest where the prizes included a visit to her school by UK celebrity chef James Martin who enjoyed her fusion dish of Yorkshire pudding and curry.

(There are many different child-friendly cooking contests held every year, including the recently announced Jif Most Creative Peanut Butter Sandwich Contest and this one from the folks at Food and Wine.)

According to this article in The Canadian Press, kids’ cooking camps and classes are becoming extremely popular throughout North America as the children raised watching the Food Network develop a passion for all things culinary.

As this Washington Times article about cooking camps shared:

“Just a couple days into the Deliciously Nutritious camp, A.J. Jones, 9, went home and started a family tradition: eating supper with his parents. He even made the pasta salad.

‘It’s normally my dad in the family room, my mom standing up and I’m at the counter,” he said. “Some nights, my mom will sit at the counter with me, but now, starting a couple nights ago, we’re having family dinners.’”

How to Get Started Cooking With Your Children

Think about ways to get your children more active in the kitchen. What meals do you make or recipes you know can be easily adapted so they can participate in age appropriate ways? This is also a great way to make memories and pass on family recipes to the next generation.

Here’s a few kid appropriate cookbooks and recipe websites that may spark a few ideas…

Books:

Websites:

(Photo Credits: Photos courtesy of the Yorkshire Evening Post, the Canadian Press, and The Washington Times.)

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