How To Cook With Your Kids: Beyond the Treats

Children love to cook!  

Increasingly, we see more cooking incorporated into curriculum at schools. Jamie Oliver, the British celebrity chef, has been tremendously influential in educating the way schoolchildren view cooking.  Michelle Obama has made exercise and nutrition in schools a priority.

We have seen the numbers of school vegetable-gardens grow dramatically.  These are on-campus gardens that the children plant and tend so they see the ingredients from the soil to the table and understand the significance of the seasons for growing.  Many of these school-gardens also keep chickens and children experience first-hand collecting and tasting fresh eggs.

So, why then do so many educators persist with the notion that kids want to bake only?  That they want to make the sweet stuff?  The cookies and muffins.  Why do they need to take zucchini, add sugar and flour and make zucchini bread rather than keeping the vegetable as a recognizable vegetable?

Or the cutesy stuff?  Why are we “apologizing” for vegetables by only having the kids use them in recipes that call for making them look like something else; for example, ladybugs (cherry tomatoes, halved with an olive for a head sitting atop a cracker) or trees (made by standing broccoli florets up)?

What is wrong with the notion that children could cook and enjoy regular food?  In that way, good eating habits are not seen as something separate.

The benefits of cooking with children are huge.  Just a few…

  • They learn about weights and measures, developing math skills
  • They develop sensory aspects – appreciating touch and scent along with the visual
  • Mixing, chopping, stirring all develop various motor skills
  • They can be taught about the value of nutrition
  • They learn to be patient; that gratification is not always instant – it is a process after all, and an enjoyable one at that
  • Especially if they have their own garden, they learn the importance of seasonally sourced produce
  • They learn how to follow a recipe methodically or…
  • They learn how to experiment with flavors

Cooking should be a fun activity, enjoyed by both the teacher/parent and the kids.  As in many other areas, it is often largely about how it’s presented.  If the teacher doesn’t value and enjoy fresh produce, it is going to show!

And, speaking of “shows”… cooking should be something the children experience.  It should not be a cooking show or demonstration.  Most kids, apart from the very young, can learn to chop and cut with adult supervision.  It is also worth noting that more injuries come from attempting to chop with blunt knives than with sharp ones.  Allow children to use the correct tools, with supervision, to avoid frustration and injury.

As with all things, balance is importance.  We can all enjoy a sweet treat from time to time (and note that banning anything makes it instantly more desirable especially for children) but let’s keep real food, well, real.  Let’s not patronize our children.  Instead, try this simple recipe below for roasted vegetables and watch them enjoy the flavors. Below is a recipe that engages their minds and their senses, and provides a healthy snack!


Summer Oven Roasted Veggies

  • 1 cup of zucchini
  • 1 cup of yellow squash, sliced
  • 1 cup of red peppers, chopped
  • 1 cup of corn
  • 1/2 cup of button mushrooms, halved
  • ½ cup of red onions, chopped
  • 1-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss all ingredients together minus the cherry tomatoes in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Spread the veggies out in a single layer on a large baking tray.
  4. Roast for 20 mins or so.
  5. Remove from the oven, stir and then add the cherry tomatoes. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through and caramelized.

These ingredients can be changed according to the season – butternut squash, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes and cauliflower all work well.

Remember children are exploring tastes and textures – have fun and be guided by them.

Image Source: YouTube