At this age, kids are a sponge for new information so this is the perfect time to teach them some cooking-specific vocabulary (and it might help you brush up on yours too!) They can learn the difference between blanching, boiling, simmering, roasting, broiling, etc. At this point they are getting a firmer grasp on reading and writing and can help you read ingredient lists and recipes. Recipes are a sneaky way to help kids improve their pronunciation, oral reading skills and basic math (measuring).
Teaching Kids How To Grocery Shop
Even before you get to the grocery store, you can have kids look over grocery flyers with you to help plan and budget for upcoming meals. This is an opportunity to exercise reading, understanding money, and naming different types of produce with your children. Doing this together teaches children cues on how to choose between different products based on priorities (taste, price, organic vs. conventional, volume, quality, etc.). Let them write the list while you dictate.
While shopping for groceries, have your little helper be in charge of your grocery list, carefully crossing off what has been put in the cart. This allows you to teach them how to stick to your list (and your budget!) Group your grocery list by the sections of the store (produce, bread, bulk, meat, dairy, snack, frozen, etc.) to not only help you be organized, but to help your children familiarize themselves with where different foods are located in the store. Let them help you select the produce based on what you have told them to look for regarding quality and congratulate them when they have chosen well. .
You can also take this opportunity to start explaining the differences between whole foods and processed foods. Whole foods are similar to what nature created, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes/beans, fresh meat. Processed foods alter these whole ingredients and often add more salt, sugar, flavours and preservatives, negatively altering their nutritional quality.
Getting Kids To Be Hands-On In The Kitchen
Young children can also perform more functional tasks in the kitchen, such as measuring, adding and stirring ingredients—in addition to the cutting of certain fruits and veggies with blunt cutting utensils. You may find that some kids are capable of using a peeler or small paring knife to cut veggies, like peppers, potatoes, cucumbers, etc. Kids can also help you tear leafy greens into bite-sized pieces for adding to dishes.
Within this age range, you can show your children how to grate cheese as well. Showing them how to safely hold the grater and cheese will make prep time in the kitchen much faster. These grating practices can evolve into grating produce for recipes: like apples, zucchini, carrots, etc. Supervision in the kitchen is key to safety, but the more they learn about the safe practices of prep and cooking, the more experienced and independent they will become!
Take this opportunity to show how certain veggies take longer to cook or how different ingredients need to be measured (e.g. flour vs. pasta). Even if they make a little mess in the process, after dinner is over, you can get them to help with clean up so they learn that messes don’t just go away thanks to a magical cleaning fairy!
Measuring and recipe reading is a great practical application for math. While the Metric system is typically the most accurate, many Canadian recipes are still written in the Imperial system, which depends heavily on understanding fractions (e.g. ½ cup, ¼ cup). You can teach Metric and Imperial conversions as well: e.g. 1 Tbsp = 3 tsp, or 15 mL, meaning that 1 tsp = 5 mL.
Teaching Kids Appreciation for Food
Instead of packing lunches alone, ask your children to help so they appreciate the time and effort it takes. Have them wash fruit, assemble sandwiches to get them excited about their food choices so you don’t have half-full lunch-bags and grumpy empty bellies when they get home.
When preparing lunches with your children, this is an opportune time to introduce the concept of a balanced diet. Let them know it’s important that half the food they eat should be fruits and vegetables, so lunch boxes should include cut veggies sticks and perhaps a fruit salad that they make.
As they spend time with you in the kitchen, they will see and understand the thought, effort and the time it takes to prepare meals, instilling an appreciation for this very important fundamental skill as they grow up.