A great way to encourage learning in all areas of the curriculum is to get your child in the kitchen, helping with food preparation, cooking and baking. Meal preparation offers a meaningful and natural context for your child’s learning, and it is something that you need to do everyday! Cooking and baking supports learning in multiple ways, for example:
- Chopping up vegetables for dinner introduces shapes and colours, concepts of division and fractions, multiples (2 carrots each for 4 people) as well as counting and comparison (more/less, longer/shorter)
- Following a recipe requires reading and comprehension skills, and sequencing (first, second, third)
- Measuring out ingredients for baking requires concepts of capacity and number, as well as knowledge of how to use tools for weighing and measuring accurately
- Mixing, kneading and touching food offers sensory experiences
- Stirring, chopping, whisking and pouring practise motor skills and coordination
- Baking depends on all kinds of chemical reactions to turn a sticky mixture into a loaf or cake, such as expanding gases and trapped air bubbles in a rising cake or protein coagulation as eggs harden and give a cake structure – children can observe the many ways in which food changes as a result of cooking, and also make predictions about what will happen
- Communicating about cooking activity introduces new vocabulary and instructional language
- Putting a meal on the table involves all sorts of thinking skills: planning, calculating, preparing, ordering tasks and so on
- Selecting what to include within a meal teaches children about food groups and nutritional needs
- Harvesting foods from the veggie patch or herb garden teaches children about how foods grow
- Finding solutions when something goes wrong or you don’t have a particular ingredient engages children in problem-solving
- Arranging food on the plate or decorating a cake involves creativity
Encourage children to participate as much as possible, but bear in mind that cooking together works best when children have specific jobs to do – such as pulling all the herb leaves off the stalks, chopping mushrooms, or just being the chief taster! It is also useful to talk through what you are doing as you cook, as children can learn a lot by watching.
Try some of these easy recipes with your child, or invite them to help you cook their favourite meal.
For lunch / dinner:
- Easy macaroni cheese https://www.foodinaminute.co.nz/Recipes/Easy-Macaroni-Cheese
- Easy mini pizzas https://www.foodinaminute.co.nz/Recipes/Muffin-Tin-Pizzas
- Easy burritos https://www.foodinaminute.co.nz/Recipes/Easy-Chicken-and-Salsa-Burritos
- Easy mini pies https://www.foodinaminute.co.nz/Recipes/Spaghetti-and-Egg-Pies
- Easy chicken pie https://kidspot.co.nz/recipe/chicken-pie/
- Sushi (with tinned tuna) https://kidspot.co.nz/recipe/tuna-sushi-hand-roll/
- Cookies https://www.foodinaminute.co.nz/Recipes/Decadent-Chocolate-Chip-Cookies
- Gingerbread People https://www.foodinaminute.co.nz/Recipes/Gingerbread-People
- Easy marshmallow slice https://www.foodinaminute.co.nz/Recipes/Jaffa-Marshmallow-Slice
- Easy chocolate fudge https://kidspot.co.nz/recipe/microwave-chocolate-fudge/
There are many other ways to get children involved in cooking and baking-related activities.
- Have your children choose a meal for one night of the week each week and help prepare it. Older children can get involved by reading recipe books, writing a shopping list, checking prices with online shopping sites and calculating the cost of their meal. They might also research some of the nutritional benefits of the foods they have chosen (‘why should we eat broccoli?’).
- When a new recipe turns out well, encourage your child to make it their ‘signature dish’ and be in charge of preparing this for the family on a regular basis.
- Make dinner special by planning a restaurant night, a takeaway night, a picnic in the garden or a cafe afternoon tea at home. Get your child to plan what they will need to transform your house according to your chosen theme.
- Look out for our cooking related (and edible) science experiments such as this one and this one.
By Dr Vicki Hargraves