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Kids In The Kitchen

Updated on December 30, 2009

We are our children's first teachers. Including them in the kitchen is a way to spend time with them, feed them and equip them with lifelong skills. These lessons can begin as early as preschool and continue until the child leaves the nest.

For the best experience, the activities kids do in the kitchen should be developmentally appropriate. With all children, supervision around the oven is essential, as are instructions about cleanliness (washing hands before handling foods) and kitchen safety (how to hold a knife and avoid a burn). Be aware that unsupervised children can be severely injured in a kitchen so don't leave them alone for a second!

Toddlers (ages 2-4) are extremely tactile and are eager to help in the kitchen. Don't be afraid of the mess as it's nothing a sponge or broom can't handle, and young kids like to help with this, too. Wrap a kitchen towel around the child's waist and let him help you measure out the ingredients for cornbread, dump them into a bowl and stir. Another fun task at this age is washing fruits and vegetables.

Prereaders (ages 4-6) have longer attention spans and are fascinated by kitchen magic. They can start learning some beginning knife skills at this age by using a butter knife to spread cream cheese or to cut soft foods like bananas and cheese. Tasks like cracking eggs, peeling carrots and holding a hand mixer are also within their skill level. Some great recipes for this age group include cornbread, double chocolate mint cake, smoothies, brownies and muffins. A supervising adult or older sibling can read the recipe, but preschoolers can measure out the ingredients, mix the batter and keep an eye on the timer.

Children ages 7-10 are able to read many recipes and identify the marks on measuring spoons and cups. Supervision is still appropriate, but by backing off a little and working next to them on a parallel project, you will build confidence in your young cook. At this age, grocery shopping can be a great learning experience. Let your child choose their favorite fruit to make into a crisp or cobbler. Let them smell different spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, and decide which they wants to add to their dish.

Preteens and teenagers who have been encouraged in the kitchen can surprise you by turning out to be great cooks. It's usually the desire for a baked sweet that drives a teenager into the kitchen, often at odd hours. Many parents have been roused from sleep by the smell of mint chocolate chip brownies or almond toffee chocolate bars alerting me that the teens were having a late-night baking session.

The smell of freshly brewed coffee from a Neapolitan "macchinetta" always takes me back to my grandmother's kitchen, where I was allowed to help her bake everything from crusty Italian bread to sugar cookies. By including kids in the kitchen, we are not only teaching them confidence and practical skills, but we are also helping build memories that will always be triggered by the flavors and aromas of food.

Continued in Kids In The Kitchen, Part 2

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