The Science of Cooking and Eating – Developing Shopping Skills, Menu Design and Planning Skills
Cooking is not just about throwing things into a pan or oven and something magically “happens” and tastes great. Cooking is chemistry, physics, math and biology all blended into amazing culinary experiences. Setting chemistry, physics and biology aside for the time being, cooking presents wonderful opportunities for children to learn math, weights and measures as well as developing critical thinking skills in young minds.
Every science lab (and kitchen) needs metrology for making accurate measurements. The more high-tech metrology in my personal kitchen consists of a digital scale (equipped with both metric and English modes), thermometers and chronometers (a.k.a. timers). Throw in some mixing bowls, spoons, a whisk, some pans and you have a fully functional cooking laboratory where your children can learn and have fun at the same time.
Hand-eye coordination starts developing from the time the doctor slaps the butt of your child and you hear its voice for the first time. It doesn’t take long before their little hands are grabbing everything to see if it fits in their mouth. At that time, they are not only learning hand-eye coordination, but also proportion. Yes, their hands and feet will fit in their mouths until they grow a bit bigger, however, I can sometimes still get my foot in my mouth but it is never intentional.
The concept of proportion actually develops into adulthood. For example, an experienced bartender intuitively knows with great precision what a “shot” is when making drinks, as does a chef when measuring out small proportions such a teaspoons and tablespoons. Sometimes we chefs have sophisticated equipment helping us make larger volume measurements such as the measuring cups and spoons.
It is important for parents to recognize the abstract mathematical concepts develop long after language because those things reside in a different part of the brain that develops later in childhood compared to language. Pushing your child to be the next astrophysicist is like pushing wet rope uphill in a straight line. It just isn’t going to happen. Who cares if they can calculate a triple integral if they can’t explain it. Instead, focus on those things developing earlier, primarily language (spoken and reading). Again, refer to my list of http://www.thymeforachef.com/resources/kids_4.html age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen as your guide.
As your child/children develop, they will not only become more spatially adept, but they also will learn order of operation which serves as the foundation for developing critical thinking skills. By age 10 to 13, children can read, understand order of operation, follow a series of instructions and plan simple snacks and meals. This is the age where you can comfortably start challenging them. However, do so intently while watching their behavior, not their performance. If they experience frustration or boredom, STOP, and revisit the task at a later date. If you see the eye-roll, stop and discuss with them if and what they want to learn. Let your children be your guide to them. In other words, parents remain teachable and become students of their children’s abilities and aspirations. They will pick up on this and appreciate you more.
Here are some tips to helping your child develop into a huge help in the kitchen, not in any particular order:
Help them develop a sense of ownership in the family meal. If they want it, they help make it.
Start slow and let them show you what they know. Many children are visual learners and learn more than you would imagine just by observation. In addition, you are less likely to bore them showing them what they already know.
Expect spills and plan accordingly, in time and ingredients.
Instead of just correcting a wrong answer, focus on the process to help them become an autonomous learner.
As soon as they grasp addition/subtraction and volume, let them hold the money and start making comparisons between products in the grocery store. When my oldest son was 13, I gave him $50 and told him he had to buy groceries for the two of us for a week. He did so successfully.
Engage your children in the menu planning. Do not limit your children to the selection of meals, but also how certain ingredients can be used across several meals (such as making an Italian red sauce that can be used in spaghetti, pizza, lasagna, etc.). This helps them develop critical thinking skills.
Communicate that their culinary competency is a normal part of their development and life.
Help them develop a vision of independence in the kitchen. This will carry over into other areas of their lives in big ways.
In the early years, don’t push. Allow them to grow into their role of Jr. Chef. In the long-run, it will minimize headaches later.
Don’t hover. Allow them as much freedom and latitude in the kitchen that safety allows.
Don’t laud false praise on them; they see right through it.
Cook together for enjoyment.
Let them cook for their friends.
Never underestimate them. This is the greatest tragedy parents (including me) have made.
It is my hope and desire my articles in this series have been helpful to you. If so, let me know by sending me a message on Facebook.
Chef David Hall, CGC
Thyme for a Chef