It's National Kids Take Over the Kitchen Day — a good reminder to get kids involved in cooking. It's not always easy, and it's never fast, but the benefits are real. When I hear my 2-year-old proclaim, "I cook! I cook!" he beams with pride. He's made something. And the benefits of cooking together last a lifetime.
So, even if you don't let your kids take over the kitchen, invite them to join you. Consider these five benefits.
1. Healthier meals.
When you cook at home using fresh, whole foods, you increase your chances of your family eating healthier meals. Processed, packaged foods and restaurant meals often contain large amounts of sodium — something you can control when you're the one prepping dinner.
And for those of us with children with food allergies, health includes avoiding their allergens — something that is much easier and less stressful when cooking at home vs. eating out.
2. Understanding what food is.
It sounds a little silly at first, but does your kiddo understand what food is? Does he realize meals don't always come in a box in the freezer section?
Sure, we all need some convenience food options from time to time, but for kids to have a healthier relationship with food later, they need to understand what food is and where it comes from. And that means seeing raw chicken turn into a main course, seeing a salad dressing made or seeing vegetables chopped up.
They should be able to recognize food in its pre-cooked stage. This way, as they get older, they'll be able to better appreciate food and how it comes together to form meals.
Cooking is part art, part science. By inviting kiddos to join you in the kitchen (or even giving them the power to prepare whatever their hearts desire), you encourage them to use the creative sides of their brains. Let them try flavor combos you wouldn't have thought of. Let them choose which veggies go into their omelet or which toppings go on their pizza.
4. Skill building in the kitchen.
A lot of us say, "I can't cook." And so we don't. But what if you had just a few basic skills you could rely on in the kitchen? What if you understood some basic science, some basic flavor combos, some basic cooking and grilling times? What if you knew how to use a few key kitchen gadgets really well? What if you had a few easy, delicious meals you knew how to make? What if you were confident in your ability to read and modify a recipe?
We don't have to be culinary pros to cook. We just need a few key skills. By helping our kiddos develop those skills at an earlier age, those skills become ingrained. Cooking won't require a second thought. It will just be something they can do.
The knowledge they gain and the skills they build in the kitchen can even lead to greater confidence. It stands to reason that kids who can prepare their own meals are empowered and self-sufficient. And if they've learned that cooking is part of life — and can be an enjoyable part — they can embrace it.
Eating isn't really an option in life; food is essential. So, they can be the young adult buying frozen TV dinners because it's all they know to "cook," or they can have the confidence to buy chicken breast and veggies and make healthy, nutrient-dense, filling meals.
When we welcome kids into the kitchen, we set them up for success. So, in honor of National Kids Take Over the Kitchen Day, invite your kiddo to join you tonight. Or, if you have an older kid, turn 'em loose and see what they come up with.