You may want to get your child involved in the kitchen but be nervous or unsure about the best ways to do this.
Food preparation can be a challenge at the best of times, so it’s ideally undertaken with patience and during a quiet time. As much as possible, you should aim to provide a relaxed, fun and creative environment where children are not afraid to make mistakes or tackle learning difficulties.
Here are 5 reasons to get your child involved in the kitchen and some of the many benefits associated with doing so.
There are so many tasks to do
In the beginning, you can encourage your child to help unpack and put away shopping. As you do this, you can use the opportunity for language development, naming the ingredients and even talking about healthy foods. A next step might be helping them to wash vegetables to be used for a meal or washing up the dishes. This promotes development of fine motor skills and helps them understand steps in the cooking and eating process.
You can always use the cues from your child, and as they show increased interest then continue to encourage them to join in. Children don’t realise the enjoyment that cooking will bring them, but rather it’s something that grows over time.
When you begin cooking, be sure to start with very simple dishes and work slowly, encouraging participation when your child seems ready. This will help to promote confidence in their ability.
Cooking is a very visual activity
Children learn best by example and in very slow steps. Even for children who are largely non-verbal they are able to watch you and learn by copying. Techniques can be taught before cooking, through visual explanation and practice. Encourage children to seek help as and when they need, to help them feel comfortable.
Cooking is adaptable
Perhaps you have a sensory defensive child? Be aware of their restrictions and triggers before starting to work with them in the kitchen and make appropriate adjustments. To help prevent meltdowns or negative associations with food preparation in the future, choose to prepare dishes with your child that do not utilise any of their triggers. If you have a sensory seeking child, this can be very distracting and affect their focus – a recipe for danger in the kitchen. Strike a balance between removing triggers completely and having one or two readily available. If they can satisfy their need for stimulation in a controlled way when they need it, it will help prevent a meltdown.
Cooking teaches you about your child
Cooking and food preparation teaches you about your child’s creative ability and individual tastes. By talking about their likes and dislikes, flavours and textures, this helps develop creative flair and language development. It also boosts their self-confidence and may help them re-create a dish in the future.
Cooking aids communication
By using lots of describing words, such as ‘sizzle’, ‘bubble’ and ‘crunch’, you are helping your child to practise their communication skills. Utilise all the five senses to talk about how things smell, taste, feel, sound and look. Use the pictures in recipe books to initiate conversation about what you are making or the finished product. Get in the habit of talking through processes in terms of time – first, next and after – while you are preparing a dish. Remember to start simple! Helping out in the kitchen should be a fun and creative experience, which just happens to provide some important benefits for your child.