August is National Wellness Month, a great occasion to consider all the benefits of cooking with your kids. It’s Sunday afternoon and time to plan that evening’s dinner. The first thing that comes to mind is to do what you always do, which is to take a quick peek in the refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards and make a mental note of available ingredients. There’s nothing wrong with that, but here’s a suggestion that has worked for my family and could work for yours as well: involve your kids in preparing the meals for the upcoming week. Yes, it’s more time-consuming than doing everything on your own, but it’ll teach them important lessons about planning, budgeting, responsibility, collaboration, math, and creativity.
Planning and Budgeting
Sit down with your kids, make a list of all the things you need for the upcoming week’s meals, and talk to them about how much that would cost. I bet that your kids have never thought about how shopping requires planning, and how much groceries cost. They’ll learn a lot from helping you purposefully look for all the items on your list. Whenever there’s a choice between similar items, ask them to compare prices to find the best deal and the one that fits your budget.
Responsibility and Collaboration
Planning and buying the ingredients for weekly meals will teach your kids important lessons, but so will actually preparing the food together. Making your kids your regular kitchen buddies (or sous chefs) will teach them about responsibility, not just for themselves but for the well-being of the whole family. Too many kids just slide into their chairs at the dinner table expecting food to magically appear before them. Once they start to actually prepare the food, they learn that it’s all a result of someone’s hard work (i.e., you). They’ll develop a whole new appreciation for all that you’ve done and, maybe, just maybe, they’ll help you with cooking more often. They’ll also learn important lessons about collaboration. Preparing a meal, especially dinner, requires lots of prep work and a watchful eye on dishes in different stages of completion, including some on the stove or in the oven. They’ll learn that they need to pay attention to what others are doing around them and to help out when needed. While young kids can help clean fruits and vegetables and set the table, older kids can pretty much help do everything else.
Math and Creativity
Your kids will also get important lessons in math and creativity. Depending on the size of your family, you may need to adapt some of the recipes to a different number of people than what is in the recipe. That’ll require your kids to get out their calculators and figure out how much they need of each ingredient. It may happen that you’re out of certain ingredients. When that happens, ask your kids to find alternative ingredients that might work. That’ll teach them to be creative in the kitchen. I can’t count how many times my family has made “breakfast for dinner” because we forgot to buy a key ingredient. And, yes, you can serve eggs with chopped up pieces of hotdog if you don’t happen to have any actual breakfast sausages around.
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.