Some of my earliest childhood memories are of being in the kitchen with my mom or grandma. Whether we were baking challah or hamantaschen, cooking chicken soup, Bubby’s meatballs or making chopped liver, I would be standing on my stool, “helping” the grownups cook. Now as an adult the smells of these traditional Jewish foods bring back such great sense of memories and feelings.
I started my children cooking at a young age, too. I guess it was my way of keeping those traditions and memories alive. My children never had the chance to meet their grandmother or great grandmother, but they can tell you stories about both of these amazing women and how to make their favorite recipes, too! My children helped me make everything from chicken soup to those same yummy meatballs, cakes, cookies and even Play-Doh. Now that they are older and can cook on their own, it’s lovely to come home to a fresh made dinner on the table. Boy, have our roles reversed. I look back at all the great memories and messes we made so fondly now.
What can children learn from cooking? Maybe the question should be what don’t they learn? Children who cook learn to taste and try new foods. Children who cook learn what healthy and non-healthy choices are. When we cook from scratch we don’t add preservatives and artificial flavors to our foods. This helps educate a child’s palate so they learn to like the taste of healthier foods. Children who learn to cook learn valuable skills that they can use in school and later in life. After all, what is a recipe? It’s merely of set of directions meant to be followed. When children measure, they are working on math skills. When they read a recipe they work on reading and vocabulary skills. When they mix, they are working on those fine and gross motor skills and coordination.
Cooking can be very messy. When children help us to cook, chances are something is going to spill. What a great way to learn about cause and effect! And cleaning up can be as much fun as cooking! Cooking also develops a child’s senses –the smell of cinnamon, the feel of flour, the taste of salt, the sight of a gooey chocolate brownie as it comes out of the oven, the loud sound of the beater as the cake batter is mixed together. These are tactile moments that children will continue to build on. As children grow and learn more, it’s those sense memories that will come back to them over and over again.
Most important of all, cooking brings us together. When we cook in a classroom we are teaching children how to work in a group. We are fostering a sense of community. We are fostering a love of healthy food and a sense of accomplishment. Cooking builds confidence and a sense of responsibility. When we cook as a family we build those special intergenerational bonds. Let’s cook with our children. Let’s give our children the gift of time and a lifelong love of food. Let’s give them the gift of time and family. Let’s just cook!
Written by Adyna Rosen, Early Childhood Program Supervisor