The Fun of Cooking With Kids

In the kitchen, Cub Scouts gain confidence they can take to the campsite.


Adults can pass on their own special recipe tips to the next generation; safety measures include having plenty of hot pads available.
The many skills involved in cooking include reading, measuring and math, and organization.

If you’d like to start cooking with Cub Scouts or with your own children, you’re in for a treat, possibly a mess, but surely a worthwhile time.

That’s because you do kids a great favor when you help them learn to prepare food. It’s a life skill everyone needs.

Let’s say you’re about to make cookies with Bear Cub Scouts. (Bear Achievement 9, What’s Cooking?, Requirement a. With an adult, bake cookies.) If all goes well, no one needs to bring a snack to this meeting.

Well in advance of your cooking session, read the recipe all the way through and do any necessary shopping. Before the boys arrive, assemble the ingredients and get out every piece of equipment you’ll need. Also, make sure your other adult leader is thoroughly briefed on the procedure in order to adequately help supervise.

YOU: O.K., we’re going to make oatmeal cookies!
THREE CUB SCOUTS: Yuck!
YOU: All right, we can make another kind.
YOUR SON: Wait a minute. You are going to teach us to cook? Have you forgotten about those Cinnamon Tacos you made for us at home?
YOU: Well, anyone could make that mistake, with the chili powder and cinnamon tins being the same color. But we learned something from that experience, didn’t we?
YOUR SON: That would be…read the labels?
YOU: Absolutely!

Even if you’ve been in charge of some disastrous dinners at your house, you can cook with kids. Be prepared for any occurrence, and you’ll be happy if there are relatively few detours in the plan.

Clever you, having already divided up the operation so each boy will have plenty to do. Wash hands, everybody, and roll up your sleeves.

MORE THAN COOKING

When you mix kids and cooking, you create a subtle learning process that will carry over into other parts of their lives.

Reading: Kids take turns reading the recipe out loud.

Organization: They locate each ingredient and check for bowls, measuring spoons and cups, stirring spoons, and all other necessities.

Math: Measuring ingredients helps them understand fractions.

Science: Depending on the recipe, you may see fascinating interactions in a bowl or pan. (Some say cooking is really chemistry.)


Have at least one other adult helping, so different preparation tasks can have individual guidance.

Family: When cooking with a group or with your own child, you can pass down advice you gained from Mom, Dad, or Grandmother.

We expect Cub Scouts to become Webelos Scouts and Boy Scouts, taking part in meal preparations in camp. If they already know their way around a kitchen, they’ll have enough basics to give them confidence when it’s time to learn outdoor cookery.

What they did indoors, from measuring carefully to eating with great satisfaction, should make them all the more interested in baking a cobbler in camp.

YOU: When pouring salt into a measuring spoon, don’t hold it over the mixing bowl. You might have an avalanche that ends up in the mix! (My mom taught me that.)
CUB SCOUT: Why are we making cookies? Why can’t we make a cake like the one you brought to the blue and gold banquet?
THE REST: Yeah!
YOU: What cake?
YOUR SON: Oh, they mean “Crater Cake.” Remember when that bag of microwave popcorn fell off the shelf right into the middle of your chocolate cake? And we had to leave right away for the banquet, so we filled up the hole with lots of frosting.
THE REST: Yeah! Let’s make that!
YOU: Who wants to try cracking an egg for these cookies?

Tip: Have extra eggs on hand. Slipping an egg out of its shell is an acquired art. With beginners, the egg’s insides may land in unexpected places.

When messes happen, take them in stride and don’t voice blame. (Cooking would be a pretty humdrum enterprise if everything always went perfectly.)

As you pass the towels or brush flour out of someone’s hair, you may question whether this was such a good idea. But remember, because of differing home situations, this may be the only cooking lesson some of these boys will get.

Cooking not only teaches kids, it teaches you something about who they are and about working with them. And it teaches you something about yourself. (You’ll find out.)

It’s a great way to come together, creating good food and then eating. Always make it fun.

So the session goes, down to taking turns at spooning dollops of dough onto the cookie sheets.

Whoa! Before the kids escape out the door for a play break, there’s the clean-up. No skipping this, and some kids actually like the sudsy part of washing dishes.

The cookies come out of the oven. A success, a failure? Who cares? Even a falling-apart cookie tastes good, especially with cold milk.

Let’s sit at the table and pass the cookies. Our compliments to the chefs. And now, everyone take some cookies home.

Contributing editor Suzanne Wilson confesses to actually having made Cinnamon Tacos and Crater Cake.


Everyone Into The Kitchen

Some tips on cooking with a group:

  • Have at least one other adult helping, so kids doing different preparation jobs will have guidance.
  • Be sure each child can eat what you’re cooking. In advance, ask parents about any food allergies and diet restrictions their children have.
  • Use a recipe you’ve made at least once before, not something new to you.
  • Assemble ingredients and equipment, but keep knives stored until it’s time to use them. Have dishcloths, towels, or paper towels handy for spills.
  • Everyone washes hands before starting. If anyone leaves the cooking area or pets the dog, he washes again.
  • Plan something for each person to do. Kids can take turns at measuring, sifting, stirring. Don’t let them wait too long for a turn.
  • Spills happen to the best of cooks. Have the kids clean up as they work; or if the mess is not disastrous, let them deal with it at the end.


Better Safe Than Sorry

Hints for cooking safely with kids:

  • Try to anticipate risks but expect the unexpected.
  • Demonstrate the safe use of equipment, especially knives, if kids are old enough to use the equipment. You operate the electric mixer or food processor; they can add ingredients they’ve measured.
  • Teach as you go: For instance, when lifting lids off steamy pots, tilt the lid away from your face.
  • On a range top, pan handles should be turned away from the front, out of reach of small children.
  • When stirring hot food, use wooden spoons or metal spoons with handles of a material that doesn’t heat up. Handles of all-metal spoons can get too hot.
  • Teach kids to use one hand to hold a skillet steady by the handle while turning food with a spatula in the other hand, so the skillet won’t scoot away. Techniques that are second nature to you can be new to a child.
  • Be vigilant around range-top cooking. Keep young hands away from gas and electric burners, even after they have been turned off.
  • Have plenty of good hot pads (dry ones!) for handling hot equipment.


More Easy Ideas

Want to go beyond cookies? Try these other food preparation ideas:

  • With Cub Scouts or your own child, making sandwiches for an outing is quick and easy. Provide lots of choices for the fixings
  • Focusing on kids’ favorite foods is a good bet. Maybe they like pancakes, a grilled cheese sandwich, or a speedy dessert mix.
  • Making individual mini-pizzas can be fun. Let each child roll out a piece of dough, sprinkle cheese and other toppings, and create a face with pepperoni.


Advice From an Expert

Amy Houts, author of Cooking Around the Calendar With Kids: Holiday and Seasonal Food and Fun (Images Unlimited, 2001), says children as young as age 3 can help out, but at 4 or older they’re better at listening and following directions.

Her recipes tell which tasks can be done by kids and which by adults. “There are so many things, stirring, mixing, that aren’t dangerous as long as they’re right there with you at the counter or the kitchen table. I just think it’s a lot of fun.”

Give them small tasks, she says. “Maybe they won’t measure exactly right, but then you can add some more flour or whatever you need to do.”

Houts has cooked with groups of children. She recommends choosing a recipe that lets everyone have a turn. “Have a relaxed atmosphere, but also keep that control where the kids don’t just get wild.”

She emphasizes it’s the process, not the product. “If your rolls aren’t perfect or your cake is lopsided, that’s not as important as the process of making it together.”

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