If the idea of cooking with children—young children— gives you the chills, you’re not alone. It’s a common feeling among anyone who has spent time cleaning up after a two-year-old eats lunch. Simply put, it sounds like more trouble than it’s worth. But just for a minute, let’s suspend the reality of sticky counters, splattered kitchen appliances and grimy little hands….
Think about all the things we want for our children. We want our kids to be able to identify healthy and unhealthy foods. We want them to recognize the social value of preparing food and cooking with family and friends. We want them to feel comfortable making good choices about the food they eat three or more times per day. And eventually we want them to have confidence in the kitchen and understand how to stay safe around hot dishes and sharp utensils. Exposing children to food preparation and cooking at an early age can teach them valuable skills and habits that will serve them well throughout life.
The Farm to Childcare program at DCCDA, Families, Farmers and Educators United, is committed to fighting childhood obesity and strengthening our community’s food system in order to protect the health of our youngest generation. Program staff have recently made visits to a number of family child care homes in order to help child care providers incorporate healthy food preparation and cooking into their normal routines with kids. The pictures you see illustrate these adventures. The kids have learned to prepare Strawberry Lassies (smoothies), Zucchini Boats and even Garden Pizzas on homemade dough. Often a few of the ingredients are picked straight from the garden in the back yard. The children range in age from under two years and up to six years, and everyone can help. They’ve been practicing skills like: rinsing vegetables and fruits, tearing lettuce, measuring ingredients, carefully pouring or spooning ingredients into a bowl as well as stirring and mixing. They have also learned to knead dough, cut foods with a safe knife, assemble a dish and clean up after themselves.
While there will surely be messes, there is immense value in letting kids participate in cooking. And if that’s not enough, consider this: during the home visits, not one child hesitated before eating the vegetables they had helped prepare. Why not involve your child in cooking dinner tonight?