When I first started teaching my own four kids to cook, it was purely practical. I realized I needed to share responsibilities in the household so that I could keep my own health and sanity. And I also wanted my kids to be independent when they left the house at 18. I knew that building cooking skills would help them do that with confidence. After playing a role in teaching thousands of kids to cook all around the world since 2016 at Kids Cook Real Food, I’ve now seen in my own home and heard from others that there are so many more benefits to teaching kids to cook.
The most important ones can be categorized as connection, confidence, and creativity.
Cooking Builds Connection with Food and Family
When kids become involved in the kitchen in any way, they immediately begin to take ownership over the food they’re making. They’re more likely to try new foods. They can be part of creating special family recipes with a real generational history. And hopefully, it opens up conversations about where food comes from and how it makes us feel.
Any interaction with or discussion about food away from the table gives kids a chance to have a dispassionate and unfearful perspective on food, because no one is worried that they’ll have to eat something they don’t like. This connection with food can be very powerful to help kids take ownership of their health and combat picky eating tendencies.
Working in the kitchen together with an adult and even other siblings truly builds deep connection. The kitchen is where I hear my kids’ stories about school without interruption from screens. The kitchen is where I watch my older kids laugh together, banter, and learn teamwork. The kitchen is where many of our members connect one-on-one with their little sous chef of the day.
Research shows that just one strong bond with an adult builds a protective factor for kids against things like drugs and alcohol use and suicidal tendencies. I’ll take all the strong bonds I can, especially if we’re creating delicious food at the same time.
Parents See an Increase in Confidence When They Teach Kids to Cook
The fact that kids build confidence in the kitchen as they build competence shouldn’t have surprised me. But the way that confidence also applies to other areas of life outside the kitchen was definitely a pleasant surprise.
Confidence is such a factor when kids are learning cooking skills that our members consistently choose it as the most important benefit they’ve found. It makes sense for a child to be able to nourish others, a basic human need, and competently perform tasks that adults do should naturally lead to an increase in confidence and self-esteem. With my own kids, I observed my quiet, reserved daughter gain the confidence to apply for class officer and babysit little ones with ease. Many of our members at Kids Cook Real Food have shared beautiful stories of their kids making food for people in their community who are sick or having babies and confidently serving both their family and others in this way.
I see confidence as our most powerful antidote to the anxiety that is unfortunately increasing among our youth. We know we’ve had a low self-esteem crisis for decades, and empty praise and giving everyone a participation medal hasn’t seemed to work. I believe authentic skills that increase a child’s sense of self are the best tools in our arsenal against what anxiety does to our young generation.
Creativity Blossoms for Kids in the Kitchen
We know that in this world of screens, it’s harder and harder to get our kids (and adults for that matter) to really be creative. The kitchen provides an arena for creativity in two ways: working with your hands and building something is an act of creation, and also the artistic side of creativity blossoms in the kitchen as well.
Many moms have told me that they are amazed that their son with ADHD or their daughter on the autism spectrum loves working in the kitchen. It helps them focus. It gives them something to do with their hands productively.
I even recall one time when I was invited to teach a cooking lesson to one of my kids’ third-grade classes. In that class was a boy who didn’t even make it back to public school the next year, because his behavior problems were so severe. He had very low self-control and very high anger and impulsivity.
That day he couldn’t get enough of making pancakes. He was a team player, measuring and stirring. And he even stayed through part of his lunch hour to help cook and flip the remaining pancakes that we ran out of time for. He was focused, engaged, and quite a delightful human being.
I don’t think that experience is unique. Something special happens to our brains and our emotions when we are working with our hands, and particularly when it has a specific purpose, like nourishing others. I also see that kids delight in creating their own recipes and even that creativity gives them more confidence as they tweak and alter recipes that adults have created. Kids will do this anyway; but unless you want a cucumber banana cottage cheese salad with curry and oregano on top, it’s a good investment to help your kids learn some actual skills in the kitchen, including how flavors fit together!
My teenage son calls cutting vegetables therapeutic. If that doesn’t convince you that it is a worthy creative act, I don’t know what will.
How to Get Started Teaching Kids to Cook
It sounds like a massive task: teach my kids to cook. It’s not exactly something you put on a to-do list for a Wednesday in the middle of February.
Many parents don’t ever get around to it, because they simply don’t know where to get started. That’s where I come in. I strongly encourage you to think about working with your kids in the kitchen in tiny little parts, individual skills. I take a skills over recipes approach, because I want our kids to have a toolbox of basic skills so that they can approach any recipe with confidence.
For example, if you have a two- or three-year-old, teach them how to cut slices of banana with a butter knife. Teach them how to measure one teaspoon of salt. That skill alone can enable them to help with almost any meal. And then they feel involved, and it increases their confidence and positive feelings in the kitchen. If you have an older child who can read, then perhaps you’ll teach them the skill of flipping, which could be used on pancakes, burgers, crepes, tortillas, and more.
For our bigger kids, whose fine motor skills have finally settled in and who have the maturity and self-control to use a chef’s knife, I highly recommend teaching knife skills. Once you can cut up fruits and vegetables, it unlocks all the health benefits of the produce section.
Plus, kids love doing dangerous things like working with knives and fire. It freaks parents out to think about it. But time and time again, families say it was the best part of their week or their summer or their holiday break. In fact, mom of two Angie said, “I can’t believe we had such a good experience with knives and fire!”
So give yourself and your kids a gift by teaching them to cook. Focus on tiny little skills, not whole recipes, and take it one baby step at a time.
If you’d like a little help, especially with those knives, that’s what Kids Cook Real Food was created to do. I’m on a mission to build confidence in the kitchen for every child; and with over 20,000 families so far, we’ve got a good start. Join them in building connection, confidence, and creativity for your kids with our free knife skills lesson–always a member favorite.
About Katie Kimball
Katie Kimball is the voice of healthy kids cooking, working to restore the health of our young generation one kitchen at a time. She’s a cookbook author, Certified Stress Mastery Educator, two-time TEDx speaker, and regular TV contributor who has shared her journey to real food and natural living since 2009 at Kitchen Stewardship, a blog that helps families stay healthy without going crazy. Along with her 4 children, she created the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse to help other parents teach their kids to cook, build family connection in the kitchen, and supercharge kids’ confidence and creativity. In 2020 the Wall Street Journal recommended Kids Cook Real Food as the best online cooking class for kids. She is actively masterminding the Kids’ Meal Revolution, with a goal of every child being able to cook.