One of my favorite holiday traditions is my annual family baking day. Ever since I learned how to bake in 4-H, I’ve gotten together at least once every winter with family to spend time in the kitchen. These occasions are a great opportunity to celebrate community, foster relationships, create delicious treats, and share stories and family recipes. If you find yourself in the kitchen this holiday season, I challenge you to use this opportunity to introduce kids to the joys of cooking and baking.
It's a great time of year to share your family’s food traditions with a new generation. Do you make a delicious holiday pie or casserole? Share your recipes and techniques with a kid in your life. While you’re at it, you can also share family stories. These types of informal conversations in the kitchen help improve family communication and strengthen our connections to our ancestors.
Research shows that time spent in the kitchen can also be a creative outlet for folks.
According to a 2016 study by Conner, DeYoung and Silva in the Journal of Positive Psychology, people who take time for things like baking are happier and more relaxed.
Teaching kids to bake and cook also helps provide them with valuable life skills.
When kids know their way around the kitchen, they are more likely to take the time to prepare meals at home when they’re grown up. These home-cooked meals tend to be healthier and more cost-effective than going out to eat. Kids who cook are also more likely to try new foods, especially if they’ve had a hand in making them.
Build healthy habits.
You can use your time in the kitchen with children to pass along healthy habits like proper hand washing. If you want, you can include a little math lesson as you work with recipe measurements, too! All of the measuring, chopping, and other tasks are also great for building fine motor skills.
At what age can kids help in the kitchen?
Many adults might think a kid might not be old enough to help out in the kitchen. I’d argue that there is a task in every cooking project for every kid – you just have to find it. Take a look at the recipe and process, and identify one or more areas where a kid can learn and help. For younger youth that might be measuring, pre-heating the oven, or taking ingredients out of the cupboards. For older kids, it might be chopping, peeling, or using cooking appliances.
Inviting kids into the kitchen can be a stressful experience. I guarantee whatever you are making will probably end up taking longer, even with the extra set of hands. It’s also likely to get messy. However, with some patience and grace from the adults in their lives, kids can succeed in the kitchen and build their confidence and self-esteem. Use mistakes that are made as learning opportunities, and make clean-up a part of the experience. By doing this you’ll be setting kids up with good habits. If your kids really take to baking or cooking, you can look for opportunities like 4-H, where they can learn more in partnership with caring adults.
This is a time of year to celebrate family and friends. I encourage you to use the holiday foods you love and cherish as an opportunity to connect kids with your rich traditions and histories. Happy holidays and happy baking!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amy Henschen is a 4-H Youth Development Specialist with University of Illinois Extension. She provides statewide 4-H program leadership in the areas of evaluation and staff development. Amy has previously worked as a 4-H educator in both Illinois and Colorado, developing programs to meet local needs. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Spanish from the University of Dayton and a master’s degree in Agricultural Extension Education from Colorado State University. Amy grew up in the Illinois 4-H program and is passionate about creating high quality programs and environments where youth can thrive.