Teaching kids food literacy builds skills, confidence, and memories

A half-cup of just about anything, a couple spoonfuls of something else, time shared in the kitchen, and a pair of helping hands from mom or dad, are a great recipe for helping kids learn and build much more than cooking skills.

An article on WebMD by Ellen Magee, MPH, RD, titled, “Cooking with Your Children: Why It’s So Important to Spend Time in the Kitchen with Your Children and How You Can Get Started,” highlights the importance of kitchen time. She writes, “Parents, grandparents, and youngsters cooking together in the kitchen, sharing family recipes and secrets passed from one generation to the next, is a lost art in many households across America. These days, it's hard for busy parents even to take time out to teach their kids basic cooking techniques.”

Moore suggests several short-term and long-term benefits of cooking with kids, even though initially it can add a bit of time and clean-up effort. Among the short-term pluses? It can make kids more willing to try healthy foods and also get kids and parents spending quality time together. She suggests long-term benefits include developing a lifelong skill and building confidence.

Learning to cook, and the measuring, multiplying, dividing, and planning that go with it, also help build math and language readiness skill. To help increase little ones’ curiosity about and enthusiasm for cooking, consider watching the K9 Kitchen episode of the Charlie & Company Vol. I preschool series. Charlie and Miss Ellie join a chef in a commercial kitchen, where they get a lesson in counting 1-10 from Autumn Red Squirrel. As they search for clues to solve the “puzzle it out” question of the day, Levi Cottonwood shows how to measure and build yummy snacks, Lily Longlegs keeps little learners fit as she reviews counting skills, and Miss Ellie helps kids practice writing numbers. Along the way, kids learn some fun food facts. “Can you believe popcorn has existed for more than 5,000 years?” asks Miss Ellie. Or count the jugs of milk and hear a cow moo!

As more people realize the risk of kids becoming “illiterate” about food (including the connections between source and product, e.g., cow and milk) fun and interesting programs are popping up nationwide. For example, Cook Learn Grow is a cooking school and more for kids. Classes are held in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Seattle. Not only is it about cooking but also food literacy. The website offers descriptions and dates for camps, classes (easy, advanced, and intermediate), and culinary tours, as well as recipes and a Show and Tell blog that posts pics of kids and their creations.

Founder Lori Hinze writes, “As a teacher and a chef, I help kids understand food literacy through hands-on cooking classes. My mission is to lead people to positive and healthy relationships with food through education while creating wholesome, delicious experiences.” Based on biblical values, the school offers “unique food literacy programs which allow young people to learn critical life skills, gain tools for creative expression and have successful experiences that build self-esteem and confidence.”

Another episode of Charlie & Company, titled “Hamming It Up” from Vol. II, available as iOS or Android, incorporates a little bit of food whimsy with theater and readiness skills! Charlie and Miss Ellie visit a rehearsal for a non-pork-consuming production of The Three Little Pigs (complete with a vegetarian Wolf)! Preparing for an upcoming show is the perfect place to practice sequencing: What happens first, second, and third? They also practice action words (verbs), choosing the right word (dances? rolls? walks?) to fit the story, with the big, not-so-bad Wolf acting out these movements. Miss Ellie and friends also present a take-away lesson in subtraction. An in-app purchase of the companion music video, “No Ham Here,” gives a closer peek at the vegetarian big, bad wolf, who delightedly sings “I don’t like pepperoni pizza. Hot dogs, I just won’t eat. So there’s no ham here, No fear, Little Piggies.” He adds, “Sure, I might look pretty mean. My teeth are long and my muscles are lean. I’m a wolf who likes a healthy cuisine. I like to eat things that are green. Join my team.”

Helping kids learn to cook and playfully teaching them about food and where it comes from, makes them “food literate” and builds skills, habits, and memories that last a lifetime.