The Very Best Thing to do for your Kids in the Kitchen

This is a guest post by Katie Sullivan Morford, MS, RD. It originally appeared here.

One afternoon several years ago, I told the kids we all needed to pitch in to clean the house; guests were due to arrive within the hour. I assigned each girl one bathroom, handing off sponges and cleansers to get the job done. A short while later, I popped in on each of them to check on their progress. They were earnestly at work, but didn’t look like they’d made a dent in restoring the sparkle to the tile and chrome of our bathrooms. The youngest, Virginia, looked perplexed and finally said,

“Mom, well, I don’t really know how to clean a toilet.”

It quickly occurred to me that of course she didn’t know how to clean a toilet, or any other part of a bathroom for that matter. I’d never taught her. Unlike breathing or breastfeeding, scrubbing tile isn’t exactly instinctive.

And nor is cooking. Your children may absorb some familiarity with meal prep simply by being in the kitchen. But really, unless we teach our kids to cook, they won’t know how. They will arrive in their first apartment with a set of cheap knives from Target without a clue as to how to use them.

Arming your kids with skills at the stove has enormous upsides, some of which benefit us parents rather nicely. Cooking with your kids:

Will up the likelihood that they’ll eat what’s on the table, even healthy foods. This includes vegetable they heretofore said they didn’t like. I’ve witnessed this first hand amongst dozens of kids I’ve taught in cooking classes. It’s also the case in food education programs such as Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard. Got picky kids? Get them cooking.

Will provide practical learning opportunities: math skills as they measure, reading as they rattle off a recipe, logic as they follow directions, geography as they travel the culinary globe, art as they tinker with presentation.

Will give them a life skill that may make them healthier adults. People who cook and eat at home, eat more nutritiously than those who don’t.

Will give you one more way to connect. Having your child grate cheese as you assemble veggie enchiladas may be the best quality time you have all day.

Will lighten your load. Being able to turn to your 10-year-old and ask him to make and dress the salad means one less dinnertime chore for you to tackle.

Will foster independence and give them confidence to know that they are quite capable of doing for themselves.

and perhaps most importantly…

Will prepare them to one day, hopefully, cook for you. When they’re adults, they will come to your house and make you delicious food as you relax with a glass of wine. I know because this is what my brother and sister and I do for my mom. She is still a wonderful cook, but she doesn’t have to lift a finger if she doesn’t feel like it.

The question now is, where to start? I’ll get to that next week with a game plan for putting your desire to teach the kids to cook into action. In the meantime, start by inviting them to help plan a meal this week. Pour over a favorite cookbook, cooking website, or blog. Ask them to pick out a recipe and help write up a shopping list of ingredients.

If you cook with your kids already, do tell.

Katie Sullivan Morford is a freelance food and nutrition writer, registered dietitian with a Master’s degree in Nutrition, and cooking teacher. She is the author of her blog Mom’s Kitchen Handbook and the cookbook Best Lunch Box Ever, to be released August 2013. To know more about Katie, check out her website!

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  • Mrs Clark

    Very true! I taught Foods and Nutrition at the high school level and I can’t tell you how students’ tastes developed in 9 short weeks, along with their confidence. They couldn’t believe they got to handle big scary looking knives in the first week of class! It was a wonderful career and I knew I was making a difference.

  • Brianne

    I think teaching kids how to not only be able to contribute but also be self sufficient is a huge part of what parenting is all about. I certainty do not get it right all the time by any stretch. But my husband and I both implement the idea that if you live in our home and are a part of said home then you absolutely need to partake in what is needed to jeep that home on track. All of our kids do chores daily. The obvious , keeping their room clean and organized , beds made and dirty and clean clothes in their proper places which is never and has never been the floor. The youngest scoops the litter box and empties the little trash cans and sweeps the the bathroom. The middle sweeps the kitchen and wipes down the table and counters and cleans the toilet and bathroom sink, my oldest does dinner dishes , takes out the big trash and helps me keep up with laundry. They all no how to rinse and load their own dishes at breakfast and lunch and they all put their own clothes away. They help in the kitchen too with chopping and grating and measuring. I do make them do a lot. But really its because when they go off to college or move out on their own I really want them to feel confident that they can eat without a drive through or microwave. And they aren’t doomed to wear wrinkly gross smelling clothes. And they never have to avoid having a guest in their home because they have a basic run down on how to clean it up.

  • Radiant Health Liz

    When I was a child I would spend several weeks every summer with my older sister in Devon. She loved healthy eating and introduced me to all kinds of great health foods and made things like brown rice and tofu cool! I am sure that is why I love healthy foods now. I associate such happy memories with healthy eating. That’s my ‘feel great’ food! Good times!