If you've ever been to a Montessori school, you might have been surprised to see little kids, some as young as 18 months, learning about cooking. Sure, the toddlers aren't handling sharp knives and using a stove, but they are learning basic cooking skills like how to use an apple corer. As they grow up, they learn more difficult skills each year. It's not just Montessori students who learn to cook, though. All kids can learn how to cook, and cooking can have important benefits for kids of all ages.
Cooking can help kids learn a wide range of different skills, from things you're tested on at school to skills you need to get along in everyday life. Cooking uses some specialized terms, so being in the kitchen can expand a kid's vocabulary. Recipes require kids to read, and they'll also need to learn how to follow directions step by step. Pouring and mixing ingredients improves your fine motor skills. Cooking also requires a lot of measuring, so kids will get practice with using measuring implements like scales, spoons, and cups. They'll also practice adding and subtracting in real-world situations. And there's science in cooking, too. What happens when certain ingredients interact? How does heat or cold change food? These are scientific questions kids can answer while cooking. Also, cooking is a great chance for kids to practice their ability to pay attention!
Bonding requires shared experiences, and cooking is a fantastic experience for families to share. Kids love to feel useful, and what's more useful than helping to prepare a shared meal? Also, many kids open up more to their families when they have another task to focus on as they talk. Food is also very important to family traditions. Many people think fondly of the dishes and kitchen habits of their own parents and grandparents. Cooking together is a great way to ensure that the next generation grows up with these same memories.
Being able to feed yourself is a very important life skill. Most adults have a story about a friend or roommate who had no idea how to make even the most basic snacks or meals and ended up living off of packaged snacks and takeout. Not only is that not very healthy, but it gets expensive! But while being able to feed yourself is important, you'll learn other life skills when you learn to cook, too. For instance, if you're going to cook at home, you need to keep the kitchen fairly clean. You'll also need to be able to manage your money well so you have enough to buy groceries. Little kids can start small with things like learning to make a sandwich and put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher. As they get older, they can learn how to cook more complicated things, wash pots and pans in the sink, plan out healthy meals, and comparison-shop at the grocery store.
Cooking from scratch helps kids develop a better palate. A better palate means kids will find the taste of fresh ingredients more tasty and won't be as fond of highly processed foods. Homemade food is usually more nutritious than restaurant or prepackaged foods, so kids who eat food they help to cook will often be healthier. Kids who cook also better enjoy deep flavors like umami. Cooking also helps kids become more adventurous at the table: Everyone enjoys trying something they helped create. Also, learning about how dishes are made takes away some of the fear of the unknown for some kids, as does tasting at each step of the dish. When kids are more willing to try new foods, dinnertime is a more peaceful experience, too.