Adrian Kohrt

Due to COVID, we are spending a lot more time at home with our families than we have in the past. This leads to a lot of DoorDash and delivery meals being sent to your home.

Instead of ordering out, it is much more economical to cook at home. With kids’ remote learning, they are home all the time, and this gives them the opportunity to learn how to cook from you!

Are there any benefits from teaching children how to cook? There are many. You can teach them skills that they will carry with them through the rest of their lives. You can also incorporate other skills like math and chemistry as they learn to follow the recipes. Dr. Susan Albers, a New York Times best-selling author and psychologist, said, “Research indicates that kids who cook actually eat less processed foods, they’re healthier, happier and they find enjoyment in cooking throughout their whole lives.”

Not only is it a skill that is beneficial to learn, but cooking tends to make kids healthier, because they know how to cook their own food. Studies also show that kids who are involved in cooking are more confident in the kitchen, likely to try new foods and more open to eating fruits and veggies.

Cooking with your children is a win-win for everyone. It gives your family something to do together, it lightens your load and it is a rewarding and fun experience for all those involved. Now that we have talked about the benefits of cooking together as a family, let’s talk about how to do it.

Get your family involved in the meal planning. Sit down together and brainstorm a list of everyone’s favorite meals. Some families leave Post-it notes on the fridge and as meals come to mind, they can write them there. Another thing you can do as a family is get on an internet site such as Pinterest, look up recipes, print out your favorites and put them in a binder for future reference.

Once you have a good list of recipes to pull from, then it’s time to plan your weekly meals. Some families give each family member a night to pick a recipe. Other families have theme nights such as Mexican Tuesday, Italian Wednesday and Pizza Friday. In my family, we have been having pizza night on Fridays for more than 15 years and my family still loves it. However you choose to pick your meals, set a day, such as Saturday or Sunday, and plan your meals for a week. Then you can go do your shopping over the weekend and have everything on hand that you need for your meals.

Bring your children to the grocery store with you and allow them to help you shop. Encourage them to try new things, especially new fruits and vegetables that they pick themselves. This gives them the opportunity to explore new foods on their own terms, without being pressured. In this manner they are more likely to want to eat new foods and even enjoy them.

Now that the preparation is out of the way, it is time to cook! Here are age-appropriate tasks that you can do in the kitchen with your family:

• 2-3 years old — with supervision, wash fruits and vegetables, add ingredients to a dish, count out ingredients

• 3-4 years old — with supervision, mash potatoes, pour things into cups, assemble simple ingredients for recipes

• 4-6 years old — assemble ingredients, stir ingredients, cut cooked vegetables with a child’s knife.

• 6-8 years old — make salads, create their own wraps or sandwiches, identify healthy snacks they would like to eat, make smoothies and use basic kitchen equipment with adult supervision

• 8-11 years old — use small knife to cut easy foods, make their own healthy snacks and easy meals, use the microwave and stove with supervision

• Preteens and teens — follow recipes and cook easy meals as their skill levels increase.

As children get older, they can start taking on more responsibilities within the kitchen. Remember it is okay to get messy if they learn to clean up afterwards! Cooking together with your family is a fun and rewarding experience, something that can help your children learn and grow healthier and you can bond as a family.

Adrian Kohrt is a family nutrition coordinator for Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For questions, she can be contacted at amkohrt@alaska.edu or 907-474-7930.