Cooking with kids
The kitchen is a great spot to bond with children and teach them about nutrition.
When Audrey Nguyen wanted to celebrate her birthday at school earlier this year, she didn’t make her mom bake cupcakes.
The 6-year-old baked a cake herself, with chocolate chips and raisins.
“It’s fun,” she says.
That’s the way things are at Raintree Montessori School, 4601 Clinton Parkway, where cooking is mixed into the curriculum. Classrooms even have kid-sized kitchens.
“It’s not just about the food itself, but about working together,” says Lleanna McReynolds, the school’s director and founder. “When you partake of food together in a community setting, it really speaks to the basic needs of people, and it’s a wonderful way of sharing with one another.”
Nancy O’Connor, director of education and outreach at the Community Mercantile, 901 Iowa, says she has seen increased interest among parents in teaching children to cook and learn their way around the kitchen. She credits culinary television shows as an influence.
“I see also an increased interest in parents improving the way they approach nutrition with their children,” she says. “That comes from the increased awareness of the connection between what we eat and how we feel, and increased consumer awareness about things like organic foods.”
O’Connor believes eating locally grown produce is more of a concern for younger parents because they are concerned about the eating habits they pass down to children. Some parents are buying cookbooks and searching the Internet for easy-to-make recipes, while others are enrolling children in cooking courses.
Chefs-in-training learn to make simple dishes such as quesadillas, crepes, vegetable soup and smoothies.
The home kitchen also can serve as a classroom if parents leave a sturdy stool close by and keep a low drawer with child-friendly tools like knives with a round serrated edge in easily accessible.
“Parents have to realize that if they want to involve children in cooking that they have to make it doable for them,” O’ Connor says.
And be prepared to handle the mess.
“Parents have to be patient and realize that kitchen messes come with the territory and we have to let kids be experiential,” she says. “That usually means that if they’re pouring a half-cup of milk, we can’t expect them to pour a half-cup of milk into a small half-cup measuring cup from a full gallon of milk.”
If little ones help, keep in mind that the meal might not be the same as if an adult cooked alone. For kids, it’s about the process, not the product, O’Connor says.
“When children are involved in a process, they’re much more open to eating it because there is a certain pride in helping prepare the food that makes them more receptive to also eating it,” she says.
McReynolds says students at Raintree have been cooking Thanksgiving dinners since the school opened in 1978. She says cooking is a “holistic experience” for students.
Teachers and students talk about nutrition often. McReynolds feels that bringing cooking into the classroom can help promote healthy life choices.
“We all know now the problems with childhood obesity,” she says. “So families and schools are making a real effort to make sure they’re serving healthy food, and of course families are a big part of their own child’s diet.”
Each Raintree classroom has an area where children can learn the basics of cooking. For the Thanksgiving feast, teacher Marcia Granger’s class of 3- and 4-year-olds made pumpkin cheesecake. Granger says teaching the children to cook exposes them to more than just food, like math, science, teamwork and using their senses.
“They learn by doing thorough the work of their hands,” she says.
Six-year-old Audrey doesn’t mind.
“I’ve got a lot of cookbooks at home,” she says. “Sometimes I make steak with my mom.”
• To check out cooking classes at the Community Mercantile, visit communitymercantile.com.
• For tips and guides on teaching kids to cook, visit kidsacookin.com, a Web site by Kansas State University’s Research & Extension Family Nutrition Program.
• At Blue Plate Dinners in the Wakarusa Crossroads Shopping Center, parents and kids can prepare family meals. These sessions are offered once a month. Call 856-2656 for more information.