Kids in the kitchen

Giving young bakers a taste of cooking teaches many lessons

Giving young bakers a taste of cooking teaches many lessons

November 18, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

Evelyn Feagin learned her family's holiday traditions by spending much time in the kitchen when she was a little girl.

She dug her fingers into the bread mixture of her mother's turkey stuffing to mix it thoroughly. She stirred gravy and made appetizers. And she and her siblings were always the "official tasters" in their mother's kitchen.

Today, Feagin is passing those memories, traditions and recipes on to her children. She also hosts a program, Kids in the Kitchen, for the Hagerstown MOMS Club.

Kids can learn a lot from having jobs to do in the family kitchen, says Feagin and several preschool teachers. It's not just about passing on food traditions, but learning fine motor skills and giving kids an opportunity to do something for the family.


"Children can do things in the kitchen as long as they are given the right tools and the right instructions that are age-appropriate," says Linda Baker, director of the John Wesley Day Nursery. "I think young children do love to be given tasks to do. Most of them will be willing workers."

Here are some ideas, tips and methods for getting little hands to be little kitchen helpers:

Get child-friendly equipment.

"With child-size instruments, (children) can help you do just about anything," says Kimberly Hicks, an administrator with Hagerstown Children's School. At the children's school, teachers lead students in exercises involving cutting, pouring, peeling and serving food to other kids.

Child-safe knives, for example, are a great way to help children gain fine motor skills, Hicks says. Kids can cut large pieces of apple, bananas and grapes. They also learn how to spread peanut butter or jam on a piece of fruit or on bread. Because children have limited muscle control, they are more successful as kitchen helpers when things like measuring cups, utensils and stirring spoons are of a smaller, easy-for-little-hands-to-grasp size.

Make cooking a lesson in reading and math skills.

As children get older, there are different things they can learn from helping out in the kitchen. When children are learning how to read, their job can be to read a recipe aloud, Hicks says. Often words and ingredients specific to cooking can be new and challenging.

A good cook also needs to be able to multiply, divide, add and subtract well, Hicks points out. Cooking math lessons can range from basic counting to dividing or multiplying a recipe.

Make kids feel important through cooking.

"I think children want to be with their parents," Hicks says. Cooking "gives them a sense of independence and, when they are little, a sense of pride."

Children enjoy the discovery that they can create something the whole family can eat by mixing different ingredients together, say teachers and parents.

"A lot of it is making them feel important and including them," says Ann Kruhm, a teacher at St. John's Christian Preschool in Hagerstown. "It makes (children) feel so good if they can do something to help with dinner or dessert."

Feagin has a kid-friendly recipe for making stuffed crescent rolls. The rolls are tasty yet still quick and easy for a young child or older child to make. (See recipe for Fancy Crescent Rolls.) When the rolls come out of the oven, kids "have made this special holiday bread for the table," Feagin says.

How kids can help parents in the kitchen

There are plenty of reasons why parents opt to take care of the cooking all by themselves. Kids can be messy, are prone to spilling and dropping things, they take a long time to complete a task and can hurt themselves around kitchen equipment. Still, there are many jobs that young children can do to be cooking helpers and as they get older, their jobs can increase in complexity.

Here are a few ideas:

Designate children as the official pourer or head of measuring. Children enjoy pouring a liquid from one container to another. With smaller, nonglass measuring cups, this can be a manageable task for children as young as 2.

"One thing that (children) can definitely do is help with measuring," says Ann Kruhm, a teacher at St. John's Christian Preschool in Hagerstown. "That helps them learn math." To prevent messes, children "can measure over wax paper or over a bowl," she says.

Older children can practice reading skills by reading a recipe out loud while other members of the family follow the directions.

A great job for children is setting the table. Show kids what they need to set the table and how they should arrange the silverware, plates and cups. This is a job they can be taught once and do on a regular basis.

Mix and mash. "Kids are great at mixing and they'll do it for hours," says Hagerstown mother-of-three Evelyn Feagin. "Anything that has to do with mixing, my kids are there, ready to lend a hand." Kids can also be directed to mash potatoes using a hand masher. If it takes them a little too long and the potatoes get cold, "you can always heat it up with warm milk," Feagin says.

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