by Patricia Dietz
Children are naturally curious and love hands-on learning through multiple senses. A great way to encourage more hands-on learning is through cooking in the classroom. Cooking with young children has many benefits for early learning and development, such as fostering early math skills, increasing fine motor skills, developing language and literacy development, engaging the senses, promoting healthy eating, and connecting cultures. Here are some tips and recipe ideas to help you get started with cooking in your classroom.
- Choose simple recipes. Choosing recipes children can easily help with will limit frustration and wait times, and will encourage children to be enthusiastic about helping.
- Be prepared. Have all recipes, ingredients, and tools prepared and ready before starting. This will create a smoother cooking process from start to finish. Before starting, be sure to talk with the children in your group about the recipe, its ingredients, tasks the children will be able to help with, and any rules or expectations you have. Children thrive when they understand guidelines for activities.
- Get help. Enlist the help of a parent volunteer or another adult. Families may like to share a simple family recipe and join you in the classroom to help make it. This will encourage children to experience different foods from a variety of cultures. Having an extra set of hands will also be helpful for you!
- Use small groups. If you have a large group, consider working in smaller groups. This will allow children to help more (which they will love!) and will reduce frustration with long waits.
- Include props. Add bowls, whisks, spoons, and toy foods to your pretend play area. Using props like these will encourage children to experiment, role-play, and use their imaginations long after the cooking is done.
- Have fun and embrace the mess! Cooking with children can get messy, which is part of the sensory experience. Children learn best through play and hands-on experiences, so allow time for them to explore the materials as they work. You can make cleanup part of the fun after the activity.
- Turning pages in a recipe book
- Pouring, scooping, measuring, and stirring with a spoon or whisk
- Using cookie cutters
- Filling a muffin tin with paper liners
- Helping to wipe the surface after the activity
- Helping set the table to sample the foods they prepared
Below are some simple recipe ideas to use with the children in your classroom. You can easily find step-by-step recipes for these ideas online or in cookbooks.
Yogurt and Fruit Parfaits: Children can help scoop and layer fruit and yogurt in clear plastic cups. Using soft fruits, like strawberries, raspberries, and bananas, may be easiest and most age-appropriate for a variety of ages. (Check for food allergies and provide alternatives as needed.) Older children may enjoy using plastic knives to help cut the soft fruits.
Bread in a Bag: Children will love adding ingredients to the bag and then taking turns mixing the bag by squishing and smooshing it.
Crock-Pot Applesauce: Crock-pots are a great tool to use in the classroom. Children will be able to smell the delicious scents as they fill the classroom. Children can easily help wash the apples. After you have cut the apples, the children can help add all the ingredients to the crock-pot and give it a stir before you turn it on. They can observe how the apples change throughout the day. (Supervise closely, and keep the hot crock-pot out of reach.)
Muffins: Muffins are a classic baked good for young children. The children will love scooping, whisking, stirring, adding muffin liners to a muffin tin, and helping to fill the liners with batter. There are many different kinds of muffins to bake, and children can easily experience seasonal flavors. For example, you might make pumpkin muffins in the fall, cranberry orange or gingerbread muffins in winter, blueberry muffins in spring, and banana zucchini muffins in the summer.
Soup and Sandwich: If making homemade soup is too time-consuming for your group, add pre-made soup to a crock-pot or saucepan to warm on the stove. Children can help assemble sandwiches. This would be a great warm meal or snack during the cooler months.
Personal Tortilla Pizzas: Include a variety of toppings, including vegetables. Children can help spread the sauce and sprinkle their favorite toppings onto their tortilla. Encourage them to taste-test the toppings before they assemble their pizzas to determine which ones they enjoy most. This will encourage children to try foods they might not have tried otherwise. These pizzas will not take long to cook in a conventional or toaster oven (teacher use only).
Roasted Vegetables and Ranch Dip: Encourage children to help you wash vegetables to roast in the oven. You could include carrots, potatoes, squash, and/or zucchini. Offer vegetables that are age-appropriate for the children in your group, and you can always steam to soften as needed. While the vegetables cook, the children can help you make a ranch dip. Once the vegetables are done and slightly cooled, the children will enjoy dunking them into the dip!
To learn more about benefits and safety tips of providing cooking activities in your setting, see our post “Cooking with Kids.”