Cooking with Kids: 8 Valuable Skills Built in the Kitchen
By making meal prep a learning opportunity, kids can learn so much—from multiplication, to chemistry, to reading—all while building life skills and spending quality time together as a family.
While cooking with kids may take a little more time when they’re young, the opportunity for learning is invaluable, and as they grow, you may find that the extra set of hands actually speeds up the cooking process!
8 Things Kids Learn from Cooking
Reading and writing: Cooking presents opportunities to practice reading and writing at every step. From reading a recipe, to making and following a shopping list, to scanning package labels at the store or in the pantry. Moreover, following a recipe requires more than just knowing the words on the page. It requires comprehension, and an ability to follow sequential directions in order, both important skills for students to practice. For pre-readers, a picture recipe like this printable one from Mom With a Lesson Plan can let them join in the fun.
Math: You can easily turn any recipe into a math lesson by figuring out how to double, triple, or halve it. Cooking and baking are also perfect opportunities for a hands-on demonstration of units of measure and fractions. If you need some inspiration, Education.com has a set of recipes and activities designed for teaching fractions in the kitchen.
Science: Whether you’re baking bread or just beating an egg, cooking is, at its heart, chemistry. Everyday foods like bread, eggs, meat, cheese, and pickles provide opportunities to explore acids, bases, yeasts, proteins, and bacteria, for instance. For suggestions of ways to teach science in the kitchen, head to the Exploratorium’s excellent Science of Cooking page.
Geography and history: Trying foods from different countries is a fun way to experience the cultures your kids are learning about in history and geography. It can also be an opportunity to learn about how people in history used to eat and how tastes and ingredients have changed over the years. These kinds of lessons can make even more of an impression than what kids read in class. In fact, I still remember some of the facts I learned while cooking historic recipes from the American Girl cookbooks when I was 8 or 9 years old! This post from TeachingHistory.org also includes some good resources for teaching history with food.
Nutrition: Want your picky eaters to eat healthier meals? Involve them in cooking it! Kids might just be more inclined to try food if they’ve been involved in making it (and tasting it along the way). Making meals a learning opportunity and involving kids in the decision-making and preparation is also a wonderful way to talk about nutrition and healthy eating.
Communication: Cooking together is such a great opportunity to spend quality time together and talk—not only about food and the meal you’re cooking—but also the big and little day-to-day stuff. But it’s not just about bonding; cooking also takes teamwork. Working as a team with a parent and/or siblings in the kitchen is preparation for teamwork in other areas of life, including school, and eventually, work.
Life skills: Of course, the ability to cook for yourself is an incredibly important life skill, but there’s even more to it than just feeding yourself. Planning, budgeting, comparing prices, shopping, are all aspects of cooking that contribute to building independence.
Fine motor skills: Stirring, measuring, whisking, peeling, rolling, kneading, cutting—all of these common kitchen activities can help to build those fine motor skills that are so important in kids’ development. While these skills are especially important for young children for developing the ability to hold a pencil, fasten clothing, or tie shoes, there are opportunities for older kids to learn in this area too, for instance, learning how to properly and safely chop ingredients.
How do you involve your kids in the kitchen? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments. And don’t forget to check out our guide to meal planning for the back-to-school season for a little inspiration.
Ashley MacQuarrie began writing professionally more than ten years ago and has covered education, technology, current events, pop culture, and other topics. A former homeschooler, she studied English and Film & New Media, graduating with a bachelor's degree from San Diego State University. Ashley has classroom experience working with children who have autism and other special needs. She has also tutored students from kindergarten through college and taught English to teens and adults at a language school in London.