August is Kids Eat Right Month where we focus on the importance of healthy eating for children and families. One of the best ways to encourage healthy eating is to get kids involved in the kitchen. Even though my sous chefs are young, we have dedicated Saturday morning to involve everyone in the process of making breakfast.

Let me introduce you to my three favorite “cooks:” 

Henry, 9 months, expert kitchen tool cleaner. His personal favorite teether kitchen tool is anything with rubber on it.

Patrick, 2 years, expert produce cutter (dull knives, dull knives), mixer, and machine operator of loud kitchen equipment, such as the blender.

Jack, 5 years, expert waffle maker, egg cracker, and finger dipper.

While I fully believe that cooking with young children is crazy important, I must admit, it isn’t easy. If you are like me, the first time you and your wee one attempted to cook, it didn’t quite go as planned, i.e.: whole bags of flour spilled on the floor, egg shells in the batter, and mini meltdowns because they couldn’t use the chef knife. I equate it to another pipe dream I envisioned – the bedtime routine. Prior to having children, I thought bedtime would entail me sweetly tucking in my children and sealing the deal with a kiss on the forehead. The reality, however, looks very much like my favorite comedian, Jim Gaffigan describes: “once the lights go out, you can expect at least an hour of inmates clanging their tin cups on the cell bars.”  So if you are new to cooking with young kids, tighten up your patience cap and get ready to embrace the messes and short attention spans, but know, it is totally worth it.

Here are 4 reasons why we dedicate every Saturday morning to breakfast making with the boys:

1.  Kitchen = Classroom

Your kitchen is an amazing classroom, yet kids don’t realize they are learning life skills when they are having fun.

Your kitchen is an amazing classroom, yet kids don’t realize they are learning life skills when they are having fun. Cooking improves fine motor skills, reading a recipe teaches kids to listen and follow directions. Measuring makes for a good math lesson, and watching the bubbles rise in your pancakes teaches food science!

2.  Fosters Independence

While I personally love to cook, once my kids are old enough, I plan on letting them do a lot for themselves (or us!). How awesome would it be to walk in on an older child whipping up his own peanut butter and banana wrap?  Cooking is a skill set which allows them to lean less on eating out or on less healthy convenience foods. A child who knows how to make his/her own snack might be less likely to reach for a bag of chips.

3. Food & Nutrition Conversation Starter

Tired of telling your kids to eat their vegetables because it will make them big and strong? I am. While this is certainly a wonderful message to preach, cooking a healthy meal together cultivates a deeper imprint and opens the window of opportunity to talk about food and nutrition in a more natural way.

4. Connect & Learn Together

Not super confident in the kitchen? Don’t let this deter you. Learning together is an awesome way to model to your child that no matter how old you are, it is never to late to learn something new.  Make mistakes, get messy, and laugh – together.  Connect though cooking and everyone wins.

Here is a video of us doing that very thing!

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.