August always seems to be a very busy month, especially for parents getting children ready to return to school. I bet you have used the phrase "so much to do and so little time."
You may think that with so little time, now is not the time to be bringing kids into the kitchen. It's easier to just do it yourself, right? But even the smallest food tasks teach children lessons that they will carry with them throughout their lives. For example, children can practice reading, writing, science and math with the real-life applications of reading a recipes, writing a shopping list, watch dough rise or measuring ingredients and determining serving sizes.
Kids can start learning cooking skills at 2 years old through instructive play. You can teach them about cooking utensils and cookware, fruits and vegetables. They can even start developing the skill of pouring by using larger items like dried beans and pasta.
Three to 5-year-olds can wash produce and gather ingredients for a recipe. Children in this age group are able to measure, sift, pour, stir and mix but shouldn't use a knife or heat.
Early elementary schoolchildren can pick up techniques such as folding an ingredient into a mix, beating with a hand mixer or and cutting ingredients using a plastic serrated knife; children ages 10 and 11 who have mastered those skills can begin working on the stove top under adult supervision.
Food preparation also builds social and emotional development; it's an avenue for communication with your kids and kids feel empowered when they prepare recipes to share with others. Cooking together also is a great opportunity for parents to share family recipes they would like to hand down to the next generation.
Parent-child culinary education doesn't stop there. Parents are definitely influencers when it comes to getting kids to try new foods. A 2008 study in the Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that parents who show positive facial expressions while trying new foods influence their children to try new foods. The same study determined that children increase consumption of fruits and vegetables when they see their parents eating produce.
Since eating a healthy balanced diet is a key strategy for lowering the likelihood of being overweight or obese, eating fruits and vegetables, preparing food at home and controlling ingredients and portion sizes can improve our chances of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
So whether it is building life skills, self-esteem or simply spending quality time with your children, teaching children to cook builds healthier kids. Plus, when the kids are old enough to make their own breakfast or lunch, you can feel secure knowing they can do it on their own.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.