Kids chopping with actual knives? Stirring pots on hot burners? Responsible for a meal?
You’d be surprised how successful kids of all ages can be in the kitchen.
And allowing them to take some responsibility can build skills that help them in life beyond what they can cook or bake.
Cooking With Kids at CAMP IDS
Every summer, nearly 200 students sign up for week-long culinary camps at Corbett Prep’s CAMP IDS. Cooking camp is one of the first camps to fill up, closely followed by its afternoon counterpart, Bake It-Take It. Led by Corbett Prep chef Chris Tarr, campers spend half-day sessions working in teams to cook multicourse meals or whip up decadent desserts. Then they sample everyone’s creations together or pack them to take home.
While the camp is fun and builds camaraderie, it also provides fourth to eighth-graders with valuable experience. They learn independence, gaining the knowledge to cook for themselves at home, and they develop personal responsibility from practicing good food safety and hygiene. Making meals helps them understand where food comes from and respect the work it takes to create something delicious, and students learn they have to do their part for the meal to come together.
Teaching kids to cook can even help with picky eaters. A student who takes time to wash a head of broccoli and then trim, season and roast it might actually sample it when put on their plate.
“Kids enjoy creating food, and they are more likely to try it when they are involved in the process,” Chef Chris says.
You can see some of these same benefits at home when you bring your children into the kitchen and make them part of the process. Chef Chris shares these tips for a successful experience in the kitchen with kids of all ages:
- Start young. If a child can stand at the counter, they can help out. Chef Chris’ 3-year-old daughter loves to help her dad prepare meals, and Chef Chris developed his love of cooking by watching his father make dinner. “The sooner and earlier kids get involved in the kitchen, the more comfortable they will be, and the less intimidated they will become,” he says. What can they do? Stir ingredients, put food on the plate, wash fruits and vegetables, fill muffin tins and more.
- Use real tools. A child who is in third grade or older can handle real knives under supervision. Show them how to safely handle knives and chop and build skills for life, Chef Chris says. Safety items such as kiddie knives or special cutting gloves can teach them to be sloppy instead of developing good habits. For younger kids, hand over a whisk for scrambled eggs or a scoop to spoon out cookie dough. Pasta makers are also lots of fun for all ages, almost like playing with Play-Doh.
- Start with a favorite meal that you can break into manageable parts. Maybe it’s spaghetti night, where you can have your child fill the pot with water or season beef and break it into small pieces while adults handle the hot burner and boiling water. Or make dessert together and help kids prepare pans, mix batter or spread frosting.
- Kindness matters in the kitchen and at the table. Kids who have worked hard on a meal understand how disappointing it feels when someone refuses to try it or takes a bite and spits it out. Preparing dinner themselves may make them more empathetic and lead to better behavior the next time they are faced with a dish that tastes weird or looks different.
- Remember that cooking includes cleanup! Model good habits and set expectations. You put your toys away when you are done playing, and you clean up your mess when you are done in the kitchen. Encourage cleaning as you cook. Put ingredients away, wash measuring cups or unload the dishwasher to be ready for the next load. Cleaning after a meal is part of the process.
Whether students learn to navigate a kitchen at summer camp or in their homes, the skills they gain go far beyond cooking techniques and recipes. The best part is the kids have fun—and you might get a night off from dinner duty.
*Presented by Corbett Preparatory School of IDS | Originally published in the April 2023 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.