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Tara Dunker

Tara Dunker

The goal is learning, not perfection.

Once you get into this headspace, it becomes far easier (and more fun) to involve kids in the food preparation process.

That being said, the best time to get kids in the kitchen would be when a perfectly imperfect final product, extra time and extra mess won’t undo your day. Because if learning is the goal, then it had better be fun—right?

According to healthychildren.org, here are five ways to enjoy cooking with your kids.

Engage all the senses

As adults, we sometimes forget how intimidating tasting a new food can be. To encourage their sense of adventure, help your child explore new foods using the other four senses first.

Kneading dough, rinsing produce, popping popcorn and tearing lettuce help build positive, fun associations without having to dive headfirst into tasting that unfamiliar food.

Teach STEM through cooking

The subjects of science, technology, engineering and math are all the rage right now, and what better way to incorporate them into your home than cooking.

Lean into these subjects by first encouraging your child to read recipes. They’re chock full of math concepts like counting, proportions and fractions. From there, your child can practice these skills by doing the measuring themselves.

Discuss the "whys" behind recipe steps to bring out the science of food preparation. Why do we add egg to baked goods, and what happens to the final product when we substitute applesauce in its place?

Make it a family affair

Family meal preparation is an opportunity to connect your child to their roots by passing down recipes. Bring out this sense of belonging even further by having them help you find new, seasonal recipes to add to your family traditions.

Prioritizing health and togetherness, over convenience, is a great way to lead by example in forming lifelong healthy habits—both in terms of physical health, as well as social and emotional health.

Keep it safe

Teach kids the importance of staying safe while cooking by demonstrating the proper way to hold a knife, how to use oven mitts to protect hands from heat and how to operate appliances safely.

Set both yourself and your child up for success by only delegating age-appropriate tasks. By doing this, even toddlers can get involved—think tearing those lettuce leaves like I mentioned earlier.

Ask for input

Just like adults, kids want to feel their voices are heard and valued. Collaborate with your child when making your weekly shopping and meal list. 

When cooking together, allow your child to offer critiques of the food and ideas for where recipe adjustments can be made.

Even something as seemingly simple as putting kids in charge of setting the table will help them feel invested in mealtime and valued as a contributing member of the family.

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If you have any further questions, please contact Tara Dunker at 402-223-1384, tara.dunker@unl.edu, or visit the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu.

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