A silver lining during the shelter-at-home time imposed by the COVID-19 crisis is more time with the children + more time in the kitchen. Why not combine the two?
It’s much easier to find the time to involve the children in food preparation now that families are free from the daily rush of driving kids to summer activities. Prior to the pandemic, the kitchen was usually a one-person zone. Now the entire family is pitching in.
BENEFITS OF COOKING WITH CHILDREN
If you’re worried about your child losing their literacy and math skills while away from the classroom, break out the mixing bowls and measuring cups. Cooking and baking help reinforce reading and math skills. They also cover a wide array of life skills including shopping for ingredients, the sequence of cooking steps, measuring and even how to clean up.
Reading. “Your kids will actually become more literate just by reading and going through the recipe,” explains Sharon Davis, a family and consumer sciences educator who teaches for HomeBaking org and WheatFoods.org. She adds, “It also build math skills – ‘ordering’ your steps or process is a math skill.” Which leads me to ….
Science and math skills. “Hands-on, real-world kitchen experiences provide relevance for supporting the acquisition of foundational mathematics and science knowledge,” says Melani Duffrin, PhD, RDN, Principal Investigator of the FoodMASTER Initiative. Explain the role of baking soda and powder in baked goods and how they differ from yeast. Recipes may involve multiplication or fractions. The list goes on.
Self-sufficiency. Kids learn how to prepare their own food which is often more healthful than food prepared outside the home.
Problem solving. What happens when you run out of an ingredient? Perhaps you can substitute another similar ingredient. Or you lack the exact size pan the recipe recommends. Your child will learn how to solve these little problems, which is practice for tackling bigger ones later in life.
- A higher nutrition profile is one of the principal reasons people cook and bake at home. Take sodium, for example. In general, food companies are trying to reduce it in soups to baked goods. Try using unsalted butter and halving the salt in most recipes with the exception of yeast breads.
- Portion control is easier at home. For example you can cut that piece of meat into just the right size.
- When baking, any recipe you make yourself can be made with whole grains. In addition to wheat, whole grains include oatmeal and whole grain cornmeal. It’s easy to substitute whole grain for half the flour. In any favorite recipe, use whole wheat flour for half the enriched white flour. For example, for each cup all-purpose flour use ½ cup all-purpose, ½ cup whole wheat flour.Or, use wholegrain cornmeal, oatmeal or another whole grain non-wheat flour for up to 25% of the all-purpose flour. For example, for each cup all-purpose flour use ¼ cup oatmeal, ¼ cup whole wheat flour and ½ cup all-purpose.
- For liquids, consider substituting 1/4 to 1/3 cup pumpkin, cooked sweet potato or squash, grated carrot, apple or zucchini or pureed banana.
- Add dried fruits to almost anything including yeast or quick breads and cookies.
TIPS FOR GETTING STARTED
- Pick out a recipe and read it together during story time the night before.
- Get tools that are easy to use with young children. Look for large numbers, visible lines, and sturdy spoon handles. Provide them with a child-sized apron. This makes them feel special!
- When baking, a whisk, two baking sheet pans, three nested mixing bowls, 9 X 13-inch cake pan, 9-inch square cake pan, 12-cup muffin tin and two bread loaf pans can get you started. When baking, a rolling pin is helpful, but a one inch by one foot dowel rod works just as well for kids.
- When cooking, tongs, spatula, meat thermometer, small and large pot, cast iron frying pan, sheet pan, potholders and can get you started.
- Store the tools in a low cupboard or drawer and let the children help you get them out. Allow time to read the recipe together and assemble the ingredients, pots and pans before you start.
- Teach your children the difference between dry and liquid measuring cups. Measure liquids flat on the counter with a liquid measuring cup. To measure dry ingredients, fluff into dry measure cups, then level off.
- See the joy from your child’s eyes. It’s fun to wash greens using the salad spinner! Even washing the dishes can be viewed as enjoyable.
Spending time together in the kitchen is about making memories, which is reason enough to risk getting flour or other ingredients onto your kitchen floor. Yet it’s also about literacy, STEM education and life skills.
LOOKING FOR INSPIRATION?
- FoodMASTER Food, math and science teaching resource
- The Thrill of Skill An age-appropriate guide to baking with children of all age groups
- A wealth of cook-alongs and food demos from chefs and cooks are on Instagram and YouTube.
- eatright.org/coronavirus has recipes and printout activities for kids.
DISCLOSURE: I am a consultant to FoodMASTER.