1. Vocabulary and Communication
Even before you start cooking, take your child to the supermarket. Talk about the food you plan to buy and describe it in detail—the pink salmon, the brown rice, the yellow saffron, the green okra. At home, if your child’s not yet reading, page through cookbooks and point out letters, words, and pictures for her. Identify meals you’d like to make together. If your child is literate, encourage her to read the recipes out loud and discuss them with you. Explain unfamiliar words or look them up together.
2. Sizes, Shapes, and Making Comparisons
Encourage your kitchen assistant to identify and sort shapes while he helps you put away the round soup cans and rectangular cereal boxes you bought at the market. Let him have fun organizing food on low shelves in the pantry. Help him discover that large boxes and cans take up more space than do small ones.
3. Movement and Coordination
All that lifting, manipulating, twisting, and pinching kids do while cooking can help them improve their motor development. Allow your chef-in-training to get more out of the event by letting her help you measure, sift, pour, knead, and roll out her favorite (and new) foods throughout the meal prep process.
4. Counting and Estimation
Whether your mini “iron chef” is setting aside eggs for a brownie recipe, pouring water into a measuring cup, or figuring out how many carrots and onions you need for the soup you’re making, he is exploring numbers. Simply using differently sized cups (and guessing which holds more) involves estimation, spatial sense, and measuring. For little ones, counting liners for muffin tins and assessing measuring spoon sizes are basic math skills.
5. Geometry and Fractions
Cut sandwiches into a variety of shapes. Make rectangles, triangles, squares, and circles. Describe them, and encourage your child to restore the sandwich to its original shape or rearrange the pieces. Slice a pizza or cut up a tray of brownies. Talk about “a quarter” of the pizza or “half the brownies” as an introduction to fractions.
6. Observations and Predictions
Food is endlessly fascinating, and there's no better place than the kitchen to explore it. Encourage your child to watch how yeast makes a dough rise, or how an egg, when whisked, becomes frothy. Let her scramble an egg to see how the consistency changes. Invite her to predict what happens to butter when it’s warmed, pudding when it’s chilled, or ice cubes when you hold them.
7. Respect and Appreciation
Whatever dishes you decide to make together, communicate to your child that it’s also important for families to sit down and dine together. Whether your homegrown chef can only able rip up lettuce or cut soft veggies, let him know that dining is a social occasion and an essential and enjoyable family tradition.