Here’s what to do:
1. Make kitchen time bonding time.
Why: Because cooking is a social experience. Ban all devices. Talk to your child about the aspects of food that kids find interesting, such as food trucks, food shows, gadgets, social-media chefs, all-star chefs, and how much you value his input, insight, and creativity.
Your child gains: The satisfaction of knowing you value his opinion. Also, from watching you, an up-close look at the tools and culinary skills he is about to master.
2. Visit roadside stands and farmers’ markets.
Why: It’s the most outdoorsy way to get kids interested in fresh food; help them understand sourcing, distribution, quality vs. convenience; and learn about the huge health benefits linked to farm-to-table eating and eating foods in season.
Your child gains: A chance to buy fresh, select the best, ask questions, and sample products.
3. Use sharp knives.
Why: Because they get the job done better and faster, and by age 8 many kids can safely handle them with supervision. Besides, when kids learn to handle sharp tools correctly, those tools are actually safer than those with duller blades, where more elbow grease is necessary for cutting and slicing.
Your child gains: Something to aspire to(after years and years of practice), and a bunch of new rules, such as use a cutting board, never place a knife tip down in a drying rack, and never leave a knife blade up on the counter.
4. Hand over age-appropriate tasks.
Why: Most kids are ready and eager to take on kitchen jobs a lot earlier than you think. A kindergarten child can “help” you measure and pour liquid and dry ingredients, whisk eggs, frost cupcakes, whip cream, and use a hand mixer, a can opener, and a garlic press. Older kids can slice fruit, trim veggies, operate timers, use thermometers, measure, make toast, and use a griddle and other kitchen appliances.
Your child gains: Confidence in her use of tools, math practice (counting, measuring, adding, reducing), and following written directions
5. Set aside time for mocktails.
Why: With the right (read: kid-friendly) ingredients, mocktails are great fun for kids to make, using fresh fruit purees or squeezed juice; a sparkling mixer like ginger ale, tonic, or club soda; simple syrup; and a garnish like mint leaves or berries. Measuring cups and tall spoons for mixing will help kids make drinks that are consistent.
Your child gains: A big high five for knowing how to add sophisticated touches to casual dining and family get-togethers. Plus, extra points for decorating drinks with fun straws, toothpicks, cocktail umbrellas, and anything else he likes to boost the cute factor.