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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

June 25, 2019 - 8:16am --

I remember cooking and baking with my family as a child. Those memories will stay with me forever and the skills I learned I have carried with me into adulthood. Children learn by watching and doing. When a child can explore and create, they learn and grow. Cooking and baking are some of the many ways in which we can foster this development. So what are the benefits of cooking together? Here are a few reasons from Penn State University Extension:

  • It strengthens relationships and is a great way to create or pass on traditions.
  • It gives kids a chance to practice skills like math and reading that will help them in school.
  • It helps children develop important life skills, like preparing healthy foods safely. Plus, kids like to eat the food they make. It is a great way to get them to try new healthy foods!
  • It boosts a child's self-esteem, generating a sense of accomplishment when they have successfully prepared a dish.
  • It is fun! It may be a little messy, but both children and adults can have fun working together in the kitchen.

In case you need a little more convincing, the University of Nevada Extension made of list of skills kids gain when they get to participate in making the food they eat. Many of these skills help prepare children for school:

  • Math: Following recipes teaches counting, measuring, sequencing, sorting and fractions. Working with food teaches shapes and colors.
  • Reading: Cookbooks and recipes teach print awareness through cooking and reading recipe books, and use of cooking terms builds vocabulary.
  • Science: Cooking provides opportunities to learn about food groups and how food grows, observe how food changes while cooking and use the five senses.
  • Creative art: Creating and decorating foods can be a creative process.
  • Cultures/History: Cooking provides opportunities to experience other cultures by preparing foods from other countries.
  • Nutrition/Health: Proper food handling teaches food safety and hand washing. Cooking can be used to introduce nutrition concepts, healthy cooking methods and healthy ingredient use.
  • Social skills: Cooking together uncovers the importance of being responsible, working together, sharing, completing a task and feeling confident.
  • Physical development: Preparing food develops fine motor skills through cracking eggs, chopping, stirring, pouring and cutting.

Curious about the age at which kids can perform certain tasks? Kansas State University Extension breaks down activities for ages two through six:

  • 2-year-olds can do activities such as wipe table tops, snap green beans, break cauliflower, wash and tear salad greens, wash fruits and vegetables, and carry ingredients.
  • 3-year-olds can do additional activities such as spread soft spreads, place things in the trash, pour liquids, mix ingredients, pour cereal, and clear their place at the table.
  • 4-year-olds can do additional activities such as peel oranges, mash bananas or cooked beans using a fork, set the table, peel hard-cooked eggs, knead dough, cut herbs with kid-safe scissors, and help put away dishes.
  • 5 to 6-year-olds can do additional activities such as measure ingredients, use an egg beater, break eggs into bowl, and cut with a blunt kid-safe knife.

If you are still not sure where to begin with bringing kids into the kitchen to play and learn, consider these tips from Penn State University Extension:

  • Wash hands using warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds or about as long as it takes to sing the alphabet.
  • Choose a simple recipe and determine what steps the children can complete.
  • Read the entire recipe together, and then gather the ingredients and equipment needed. Take time to explain and demonstrate new skills and techniques.
  • Keep safety in mind when using equipment and give children age-appropriate tasks.
  • Cooking and baking provides opportunities to use all the senses – tasting, smelling, touching, seeing, and hearing. Encourage children to explore by asking questions like “How does this smell?” or “Why do we add baking soda?” Consider each activity to be a learning experience that helps inform what might work better the next time!
  • Teach how to clean up. It is part of the baking and cooking process, after all.

Remember, the most important part of the process is to focus on fun! Children do not need to be involved in every step of the process to enjoy and learn from cooking and baking experiences. This summer, take a moment to create memories with those closest to you.


Sara Meeks is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722.

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