Cooking, it seems, went out of fashion for a while, as people flocked to restaurants for gourmet food. However, with the rise in popularity for whole foods, organic foods and specialized diets, cooking at home is becoming more common. Children often love to watch Mom or Dad cook, so when should a child learn to cook?
A child should learn to cook — at least beginning basics — when he or she is old enough to express an interest. This may be as young as three or so. However, even a three-year-old can learn to cook in some ways. They love to cut out cookies with a cookie cutter or biscuits with a biscuit cutter, and can even do things such as roll cookie dough into balls or make meatballs from a prepared mixture.
If peanut butter cookies are on the menu, a three-year-old can press a fork into the cookie dough to flatten it, or he or she can flatten sugar cookies by pressing the bottom of a glass against them. Children can also sprinkle colored sugar on cookies and put the paper liners into cupcake pans. All these small jobs make a child feel he or she is helping, and children improve fine motor skills and learn organized thinking through these tasks.
At ages four and five, a child can learn to cook toast in a toaster and may be able to mix up frozen fruit juice or powdered soft drinks if he or she can reach the sink. All of these jobs should naturally only be undertaken with a parent’s supervision, and the child should be taught that things like the toaster can only be turned on if Mom or Dad is in the kitchen. A six or seven-year-old can learn to cook things like canned soup and to measure ingredients and make favorite sandwiches that do not require sharp knives. Cooking is also a great way to introduce fractions, or to reinforce the fractions lessons in children’s classrooms. Again, it should be stressed that nothing is to be turned on in the kitchen without a parent present.
When a child turns eight or so, he or she can learn to cook small snacks. One favorite for children is cheese in a wiener. A parent can slice a hot dog wiener lengthwise, not slicing it all the way through. The child can then slice pieces of a softer cheese, such as mozzarella, using a serrated table knife and place the cheese inside the wiener. A couple of minutes under the broiler, and the snack is ready to eat. An eight-year-old is also capable of putting a microwaveable snack in the microwave oven and cooking it — still under parental supervision.
Nine and ten-year-olds are ready to cook things like pasta that require boiling water. They may be able to tackle something like boxed macaroni and cheese or spaghetti. Children this age may also try to start doing other simple things, like scrambling eggs, cooking bacon in the microwave and making pancakes. They can also be trusted to put a frozen pizza or TV dinner in the oven. When a child reaches age ten, parents can probably relax and allow the child to make toast and other simple things without being in the kitchen, although they should be in the house.
As a child gets older, in the 11 to 13 year-old range, he or she will want to learn to cook more complicated things. Parents can help them by providing more complex things to cook, such as a pizza kit. These kits help a child learn how to mix dough and set it to rise, as well as how to put a crust on a pan and how to top the pizza. When the pizza that the child made comes out of the oven, the child always feels a sense of great accomplishment. A child this age is also probably ready to learn to use the electric mixer and make a sheet cake, or to use a tube pan and make a mix cake.
Teens will want to learn to cook for their families and friends and should be encouraged to do so. At this time, Mom and Dad should start sharing family recipes and good cooking techniques. At every stage of the game, parents should emphasize kitchen and food safety procedures. These can also be learned as the child watches the parents cook and asks questions.
Even a child who has little interest in cooking should be taught some basics to carry into adulthood. However, children who want to learn to cook should be given every encouragement to hone this skill. It will serve them well all their lives.