What a joy it can be to cook with young children! There are so many wonderful aspects of cooking, that beginning to cook with very young children can be the start of a wonderful family tradition. The experience is even further enhanced when cooking is associated with a storybook related to cooking, or with a holiday celebration.
Cooking with young children is an optimal time for creating a special bond. The sensory experiences of cooking are countless. It’s an opportunity for both teaching and learning, and of course, sharing the food that’s been cooked.
When we cook with young children at preschool, the cooking activities are developmentally appropriate, which means that they’re geared to the ability and interest of the child. Cooking is always an ideal hands-on learning activity, as children participate in the science and math experiences of measuring, mixing and observing the changes in ingredients. The adult can also introduce new vocabulary while discussing liquids turning into solids, and raw food into cooked food. Each cooking activity is a new sensory experience of smells, textures and tastes.
There are some important things to remember when cooking with young children, such as:
λ Gear the cooking to the child’s attention span. This means both attending to the preparation of the food, as well as to the time it takes for something to cook or bake.
λ Only give the child an experience that fits their developmental level. Adapting cooking to a child’s ability is the recognition of their physical coordination. Two-year-olds can scoop a flour mixture into a bowl, three-year-olds can pour a liquid ingredient and tear pieces of lettuce and four-year-olds can chop food (i.e., fruit salad) with a small plastic knife. Children love to scoop, pour, stir…. and of course knead dough.
λ There’s often something special about cooking food which can help the reluctant eater try something new. Adding blueberries to the pancake batter, or sprinkling grated cheese on an English muffin might help a child try something new. (Reading the book, “Green Eggs and Ham”, complements the suggestion to try something new)
A wonderful way to complement a cooking experience is by sharing a book related to the holiday/food…. Some favorite picture books are “The Better-Than-Best Purim”, by Naomi Howland, “A Mountain of Blintzes”, by Barbara Diamond Goldin, “It’s Challah Time”, by Latifa Berry Kropf, “Talia and the Rude Vegetables”, by Linda Elovitz Marshall and “Lots of Latkes”, by Sandy Lanton. An excellent book that was recently offered through PJ Library, is Joan Nathan’s “The Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen”. This cookbook guides parents through the cycle of Jewish holidays, with recipes for both child and adult participation.
Then, of course, combining a Jewish holiday with cooking always adds an extra touch to the celebration, and enhances a family’s shared experience. Some holiday cooking with young children can include honey cake at Rosh HaShanah, fruit salad at Sukkot, applesauce at Chanukah, hamantashen at Purim, haroset at Pesach, blintzes at Shavuot, and challah at Shabbat.
Cooking with children is such a delightful shared experience for parent (grandparent!) and child … instilling joy, learning, beautiful memories and nourishment. In addition, it’s fairly certain that a child will want to at least try and taste the food that he or she has made…. B’tei Avon! _
Deborah Pruitt is the Director of Temple Beth Israel Preschool in Pomona, a Jewish preschool that has been serving the community since 1988.