Do I need special equipment for children?
You can begin to involve your child in food preparation without any special equipment. Children learn best by exploring with their hands, eyes, noses and mouth. As you progress, we recommend purchasing a few items that will make it easier and safer for your child to follow a recipe. For example, chopping fruit, vegetables and herbs with a mezzaluna and scissors can be safer for little hands than a sharp knife and can help your child build confidence and independence in the kitchen. Here is a list of tools we recommend.
How early can I start teaching my child cooking?
Children are natural explorers. From the moment you place a food on their tray to inspect, they are engaged with food. So cooking or food preparation should be a natural transition from self-feeding. We think starting as early as 18 months is possible, but keep the tasks VERY simple: spreading cream cheese on crackers, stirring, peeling a banana, tearing lettuce leaves or pulling grapes off the vine.
I don’t have room to grow a garden at home, how can I make the connection to nature?
No worries! There are many ways to make that connection. Explore the plants you are eating. What part of the plant are we using? Does it grow underground or above ground? Another way is to read books, either fiction or non-fiction. Here is a list of books we recommend. Find a tree in your neighborhood and look for leaves, branches, roots and flowers. See if you can find any animals or bugs using the tree. Take a walk to a local park or garden.
What can I grow indoors?
The easiest thing you can start with is herbs. Find a sunny window either in the kitchen or dining area and place a store bought plant of herbs: parsley, thyme, basil, cilantro, dill or anything else you know you will use. Other fun experiments with growing can include chick peas, beans, avocado. Those can all emphasize the connection to nature in the kitchen and make us appreciate how easy it is to purchase produce instead of growing it all. You may also want to use kitchen scraps to grow vegetables.
We can’t compost at home; is there anything we can do with food waste?
Check your local farmers market or town dump to see if they accept food waste. The best thing that you can do is to limit food waste in general. This is a good lesson in preserving precious nutrients that our earth gives us and also will save you money! Use carrot tops to make pesto. Start a freezer bag for vegetable scraps and use them to make a stock. Here are other ways that you can use food to reduce waste in the kitchen.
I work full time; how can I still impact my child’s food choices during the day?
Cooking with your children does not have to be a planned event. Involve your children in regular tasks – let them add spices to a dish, stir the pot of soup or sauce you are making, and even pressing the buttons on the microwave. Bring your children to the grocery store and involve them in choosing food, especially produce
When you are ready to cook a full meal or dish together - use your time away from work wisely and plan ahead! Once or twice a month make a date to cook together. Have your children look at cookbooks during the week and make note of what they are interested in making. When they are old enough to make shopping lists, either written or illustrated, they can get ready for your cooking date by making sure you have the right ingredients at home. All of these tasks will engage them, and make them more aware of the different steps you need to take before preparing a meal.
In order to help them make healthier food choices during the week, try to make a meal plan, and think together what they can prepare by themselves.
Lastly, you can read books together at bedtime that explore food or plants.