If you’re feeling worn down by the chore of cooking for your family while sheltering in place, try bringing your kids into the kitchen as a way to enrich their remote learning and spend some quality time together.
“Cooking together is the key to ensuring this period of sheltering in place isn’t solely a stressful, upsetting memory,” says Omar Amores, Director of After-School and Summer Arts Camp. “Maybe you didn’t have time to teach your kids how to cook before this started, but you can use this time while we’re all at home to bond in the kitchen and make special new memories.” Here are some ways to have your kids involved with cooking beyond giving them sous chef tasks as you prepare meals:
Start a quarantine tradition: Baking cookies every Sunday or doing breakfast for dinner on Wednesdays gives you a routine excuse to get in the kitchen together, and it helps to have something consistent to look forward to each week. It doesn’t have to end after quarantine, either! If you keep it up you can look back on this time as the start of a special tradition.
Enroll the kids in your class: Choose a day where you’ll have Cooking Class and focus on a different part of the meal each week. Start with teaching your kids how to make an appetizer, then a side dish, vegetable, main course (maybe one vegetarian and one where they learn how to safely cook meat), and dessert. After you’ve made it through the class, your children can cook a full meal on their own, with supervision, for the family to enjoy. Having something structured gives them even more of a sense of accomplishment once they see they can make a meal on their own. A graduation ceremony is encouraged!
Introduce family recipes: Have you inherited any recipes from your relatives, or do you have any cherished food memories of your own around a certain dish? Take this time to teach it to your children. Tell them any stories you have about this meal, and all about the family member who used to make it as you’re working together. If the family member is still alive, video chat with them while you’re cooking or eating so they can join in on the storytelling, offer guidance, and be with you from a distance.
Host a cooking challenge: Set out what’s left from your stockpiled food, or pull out half-used ingredients from your pantry that you’re not quite sure what to do with, and challenge your kids to come up with ideas for what to make with what’s in front of them. This helps them learn how to meal-plan if you want to stick with practical recipes, or give them full reign to get as creative (and potentially silly) as possible.
Be prepared for things to get messy as your kids learn to navigate the kitchen, but clean-up is part of the lesson!
“Cooking is a valuable skill for kids to learn,” says Omar. “Not only are there tons of opportunities for learning real-world examples of math and science, but it helps kids develop healthy habits. Cooking for yourself is regularly cited as one of the most important things you can do to keep a nutritious diet.”
In the two cooking classes featured at After-School – What’s Cooking? and Sporty Chefs – kids also have a chance to practice working as a team, following directions and dividing up tasks. It takes cooperation and communication to follow a recipe as a group. At home, siblings can work together to complete a dish with supervision, or it can be a parent and child team. This also helps boost confidence as kids master new skills and get to taste the (delicious!) fruits of their labor. Have a picky eater? Letting them be a part of bringing food to the table can help them be more comfortable and interested in trying new foods.
If you’re not sure where to start, these are a few of the recipes that have been big hits with the kids in What’s Cooking? and Sporty Chefs: