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When you teach your kids to cook at a young age, you give them many gifts. You give them a sense of achievement and accomplishment which comes from seeing themselves take a step towards independence.

You also give them the chance to choose and create healthy meals for themselves and their families when they grow up. This will have enormous future payoffs in terms of being able to lead a healthier lifestyle and even save money in the long run.

Independence

All children want to be independent. They want to be just like the adults around them. Being able to feed yourself and prepare your own meals at a young age is a significant step towards independence.

A Healthy Lifestyle

When children learn to cook, they also start to understand exactly what goes into the meals they eat. As they measure out the butter for a cookie recipe, they will see and feel for themselves how much butter is used as opposed to a healthier snack like a bowl of fruit and yoghurt. Learning to cook and understanding the basic building blocks of most recipes will allow them to make better and more informed choices about the food which they eat in the future. 

5 Practical Tips for Younger Cooks

So at what age can you start teaching your children to cook? In reality, kids can start to help out with simple things like laying the table for dinner, stirring the batter for a cake, shaping breads and cookies, setting the timer to remind you when to take items out of the oven or off the stove and even packing away cooled cookies and breads from as young as 4 years old. As they grow older, they can progress to more complicated tasks, by the age of 11 or 12, most children should be able to put together simple meals for the family. 

1. Start Young
Don’t wait until you feel they can be left in the kitchen alone before you start teaching them. Start as young as possible. Include them initially when you talk about what you plan to cook and what ingredients you are going to use.

Pre-schoolers can already help out with sorting and cleaning fruits and vegetables, laying and clearing the table and many other simple tasks in the kitchen. Keep them away from the stove, knives and heavy equipment until they are older and have learned basic safety skills. 

2. Plan Family Meals Together 
Involve them actively in meal planning. Not only does this give them a sense of partnership in preparing the family meals, but it is also a chance for you to teach them about nutrition, vitamins, fibre in the diet and planning a balanced meal. 

Ask them what their favourite meals are and offer to teach them how to cook them. They will be excited to know that one day they too, will be able to cook the foods they love. 

3. Teach Safety Skills
Right from the beginning, tell them which areas of the kitchen are less safe. For pre-schoolers, the stove, oven, anywhere with heavy pots and pans as well as drawers where you keep sharp implements like knives and peelers should be off-limits. If you need to, install locks for the drawers you keep your knives in. Explain the dangers that each of these may represent and talk about what they should do in the event of an emergency. 

From the age of 6 onwards you should be able to teach them basic knife skills. Start by buying them a short knife with a wider blade. Don’t give them a long and thin knife. These are designed for experienced adults to use. Remember that children’s hands are smaller and that they are shorter than you are. Make sure that the chopping board is set on a table which is appropriate for their height. Show them how to hold the knife and let them cut simple foods for you.

This is also a good time to teach them to use the vegetable peeler as well as the can opener – although try to choose safer models for them to use. At this stage they will be able to cut and peel vegetables and fruits as well as slice breads and other prepared foods. 

4. Give Them Some Control
By the time your kids have mastered basic knife skills, the can opener and vegetable peeler, they can already start to independently prepare a meal for themselves. Tuna and ham sandwiches are certainly possible, as well as cut fruit and even simple desserts like fruit cocktail from a can with yoghurt. 

Once they can prepare a simple meal like this, step out of the kitchen and allow them to make a meal from start to finish. Tell them that not only will they be preparing the meal, but that they are also in charge of putting everything away and cleaning up. Even though they will probably take twice the time and create twice the mess that you would, you need to let them do this on their own. They will appreciate the independence and they will feel more confident about their ability to master this skill. 

5. Think Appliances
Stay away from unsupervised recipes which involve the stove, oven or boiling water. Until your children are tall enough and strong enough to manage these, they should not be allowed to use them alone. 

This however, does not mean that you have to wait until they are much older to teach them to cook. There are many appliances which are safe for children to use from an earlier age. 

The microwave can be mastered by most lower-primary school children, although you need to teach them about handling hot foods and using oven mitts when taking food out. There are plenty of interesting microwave recipes which go all the way from the relatively simple re-heating of prepared foods, to using the microwave to make jelly and even microwaving mug cakes from scratch.

Another interesting appliance is the rice cooker. Apart from cooking plain rice, you can use it for porridge or even rice dishes like chicken briyani and Chinese sausage with mushroom rice. It’s simple as all your kids will need to do is to prepare the ingredients, mix them in with the rice, put it into the rice cooker and start it on the correct setting.

Similar to the rice cooker of course, is the crock pot or slow cooker. Here they can make soups or even traditional desserts such as bubur terigu and red bean soup. Stews, curries and even some desserts are possible in a slow cooker. 

Finally, newer appliances such as air fryers are an interesting option. Many of these come with instructions which say that they have been qualified in Europe for use by children as young as 8 years of age. Roti prata, chicken nuggets and many other recipes are possible with these appliances. 

Tags: Child Development /Parent-Child Relationships /Child Education