Teaching kids to cook is one of the best ways to improve their eating habits, reading skills, and confidence. It really works: In England, the Let’s Get Cooking program has taught more than a million children and family members new cooking skills. Result: 50 percent of the participants are eating healthier at home.
Sharing your knowledge of how to read a recipe—or learning together—is one of the best ways to introduce your kids to cooking. Learning this skill is key to getting them interested in being in the kitchen and tasting new foods. When they know how to cook from a recipe, and experience success, they develop the confidence to experiment with ingredients and method later on.
The recipe can double as a reading—not to mention, math—lesson, too. As they are usually one page in length, the lesson is brief but long lasting.
Some tips on reading recipes with your kids:
Read through the recipe together before gathering ingredients and equipment. If your children are good readers, let them read to you. If not, point out the words and ask questions to see if they comprehend the process.
Make a grocery list together. First record exact quantities that you’ll need for the recipe, and then help your child translate the items into quantities (container sizes) to purchase.
Gather the ingredients and equipment. Talk about the appropriate measuring cups for dry and liquid measures. Pointing out the 1/4-, 1/3-, and 1/2-cup unit measuring cups can turn into a math lesson when they are filled and compared with each other. Let them do as much hands-on cooking as their ages and skills allow, with your supervision. For older children, you can even multiply or divide the recipe to increase or decrease the servings.
Stick to the directions. To get a big picture of where the recipe will lead you, talk out the process first, then cook the recipe step-by-step. Go over any vocabulary words or terminology that they are not clear on. Explain specific terms, such as whisking, folding, beating. Talk about the necessary pots, pans, wet and dry measuring cups, and other equipment, pointing out the sizes of skillets and saucepans necessary to hold the food which you are cooking.
Most importantly, relax and don’t stress about the mess or the outcome. The joy is in the process. Oh, yes, and the eating!
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Food writer Debby Maugans, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, is the author of Small Batch Baking and Small Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers, and is writing a new book, Farmer and Chef Asheville.