By the age of 6, children’s fine motor skills are sufficiently developed for them to handle most of the tasks required in the kitchen. With your guidance, they can start slicing harder foods such as apples and carefully handling hot foods. Apart from developing motor skills, here are a few more ideas and things to keep in mind while cooking with your child.
Start teaching your children food safety and other kitchen hygiene principles by modeling good practices. Make it a habit to wash your hands together before cooking and after touching raw meat and eggs. Wash all fruits and vegetables. Practice safe meat handling procedures such as separating meat and vegetable cutting boards. Clean the kitchen as you cook. Always explain why you are doing certain things (e.g. washing fruits removes dirt and pesticides that make us sick, especially if the fruits are not organic). Here are some great tips on food safety.
Learning at Home
Cooking is a good time to practice skills that your children are learning in school. By connecting information from school with real experiences in the kitchen, you can help your child grow intellectually. Practice sounding out words of unfamiliar ingredients. Spell the ingredients of your meal together. Have your child read simple recipes and follow the directions. Read nutrition labels together, explain what each category means, and how to use the labels to choose healthy foods. Then put your knowledge to the test at the grocery store! Do simple math problems, tell them the history of certain foods and where different foods come from. Try making the same recipe with different ingredients and discuss which one they like better. Learn more about how to read food labels.
Children 2-6 years old often show a high degree of neophobia, or aversion to trying new foods. This tendency slowly declines after about 6 years of age, so try to introduce new ingredients gradually. In a positive environment, have them try small amounts of new foods. Give them a variety of fruits, vegetables and ethnic foods. For more information, check out these two articles:
- Encouraging Young Children to Eat Different Vegetables
- Your Picky Eater: Evidence-Based Tips for Getting Kids to Eat
One of the most important but overlooked skill for children to develop is perspective taking, or the ability to see a situation from someone else’s point of view. Cultivating this skill makes children more compassionate, flexible, and understanding. The easiest way to practice this in the kitchen is by encouraging your child to plan meals for the family. Have your children choose a dish that each member of the family would like. Help them realize that what they like is not what everyone else might like. If someone has a stomachache, how would that change what food they want to eat? Planning meals together is also a great way to encourage creativity.
Here are some cookbooks geared toward this age group:
New Junior Cookbook by Better Homes and Gardens
Designed for kids ages 5-12, this cookbook has 65 recipes for all meals, full-color illustrations, and information on cooking basics.
Kid-Approved Cookbook by Taste of Home
This cookbook contains recipes that your child is sure to enjoy, such as Breakfast Burritos and Mac & Cheese. It also includes recommendations on which recipes are appropriate for which age groups.
*Article written by Claudine Yee, Brown University