The benefits of cooking for children
Earlier this year, we chatted with Educational Psychologist Dr. Kairen Cullen about children's development and activity classes (watch the video here). As part of the interview, Dr. Cullen highlighted the role that cooking can play in building essential skills and fostering cognitive and social development. In this blog, we will delve into why cooking is good for kids, exploring its educational and developmental advantages.
A psychologist's view
“Cooking can engage children in a meaningful, productive and enjoyable way. In addition, there are the bonuses of early number skills like counting, measuring and estimating, lots and lots of language, and important cognitive and social benefits, such as waiting, turn-taking, understanding about planning, organising and problem-solving.” Dr Cullen explains on her website.
Expanding on this during her recent interview with Sabine from the Pebble team, she added “It's really relevant. It's collaborative. It's social. There are lots of different and interesting materials, and it is outcome-focused. It can be done either with you and one child, with a number of children, or in an organised group – that's why early years settings draw on cooking with their children, as it is usually a positive experience.”
The benefits of cooking with kids
With Dr Cullen’s words ringing in our ears, we set about digging deeper into some of the key benefits of cooking with kids.
Cooking helps develop early maths skills
Cooking provides an ideal way for young children to develop early maths skills. They need to count ingredients, measure quantities, and make estimations. These activities not only introduce them to basic maths concepts but also make learning numbers more tangible. For example, measuring flour or counting out eggs helps children connect numbers to real-world objects and actions. Reading a recipe also helps with literacy, and chatting about the ingredients and where they come from could also provide opportunities for early science and geography too!
Cooking can help to develop language skills
Cooking is a great opportunity to explore language and encourage children to use descriptive terms. Chatting about how ingredients look, feel, taste and smell – and even engaging in a bit of messy play – is a fun way to get them to use imaginative vocabulary.
As well as the more obvious benefit of extending children’s vocabulary, cooking often involves following step-by-step instructions, which enhances their receptive language skills. According to Therapy Works “a child’s ability to listen and follow directions (e.g. “put on your coat”) relies on the child’s receptive language skills” – something most parents would agree is a VERY desirable skill to develop in their children!
Cooking enhances cognitive development
In simple terms, cognitive development means the development of the ability to think and reason. Cooking is packed with great ways to promote cognitive development in kids of all ages. They must follow a recipe, plan what’s needed, and make decisions or problem-solve along the way, and manage their time effectively, which are great examples of executive functioning skills.
According to the Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, “The increasingly competent executive function of children and adolescents enables them to plan and act in a way that makes them good students, classroom citizens and friends. In turn, this helps them grow into adults capable of juggling a multitude of commitments, such as parenting, employment, continuing education and civic involvement”.
If cooking can help our children to develop these skills, then let’s get our aprons on!
Cooking offers social benefits
Whether you opt to cook as a one-to-one activity with a child, or with a group of children, cooking offers a host of social benefits. It is a great opportunity for adults to model effective communication, giving instructions, offering praise and asking questions. When children cook together, they need to learn to take turns, delegate tasks, and support each other to achieve their end goal, all of which teaches them valuable lessons about collaboration, sharing, and teamwork.
Cooking is outcome-focused
One of the most rewarding things about cooking is that it is focused on an outcome that is tangible. When children take a lovely-looking cake out of the oven, or eat it and share it with friends and family, they get a huge sense of accomplishment, which is great for their self-esteem.
Is cooking therapeutic for children?
When exploring the benefits of cooking outlined by Dr. Cullen in our interview, we stumbled upon A LOT of information about the therapeutic benefits of cooking. Research suggests that the very process of cooking can be good for our wellbeing. The Wall Street Journal reports that many therapists are now recommending cooking classes as a way to treat depression and anxiety, on the basis that it can "soothe stress, build self-esteem and curb negative thinking by focusing the mind on following a recipe."
Where to find inspiration for cooking with kids
While there are some really good US-based websites and books for cooking with kids, they come with the added complication of converting the American cup method into weight-based measures. If you want to tackle this as an extra opportunity for a bit of maths, then there are lots of opportunities. For now, we’ve focused on UK resources to keep it simple:
Great websites for cooking with kids
BBC Good Food - Kids Cooking: a dedicated section for kids' cooking, featuring a wide range of child-friendly recipes. It includes step-by-step instructions and helpful tips for young chefs.
CBeebies - I Can Cook: is a delightful cooking show for preschoolers. The website provides recipes and videos that are perfect for younger children. It focuses on simple and healthy recipes.
Change4Life - Recipes offers a collection of healthy recipes for families. It includes recipes that are suitable for cooking with children, along with nutritional information.
Website: Change4Life - Recipes
Fun Food Chef is a website created by a chef dedicated to getting kids excited about cooking. It provides recipes, cooking tips, and resources to inspire children to become confident in the kitchen.
Kids recipe books
“The World in My Kitchen” by Sally Brown and Kate Morris: This book introduces children to international cuisines through easy-to-follow recipes which allow them to explore cultures and flavours.
"Cooking Step by Step" by DK: A bright and colourful cookbook featuring step-by-step instructions and photos for each recipe, making it easy for kids to follow.
"My First Cook Book: Bake, Make and Learn to Cook" Written by David Atherton, winner of "The Great British Bake Off," this cookbook is specifically designed for kids and includes fun and educational recipes.
"The Tickle Fingers Toddler Cookbook" by Annabel Woolmer: Designed for toddlers and their parents, this book offers easy recipes that little ones can help with.
"Nadiya's Bake Me a Celebration Story”: Thirty Recipes and Activities Plus Original Stories for Children" by Nadiya Hussain: This book combines stories with recipes, making it a delightful and creative experience for kids.
"The Kids Only Cookbook" by Sue Quinn: This cookbook includes over 50 recipes that are simple enough for kids to follow on their own, with minimal adult supervision.
TV programmes that encourage kids to cook
CBeebies has a number of great cooking programmes for younger children. "I Can Cook", "Big Cook, Little Cook" and "My World Kitchen" all introduce kids to the idea of cooking, using stories, culture and challenges to engage little minds.
"Junior Bake Off": A spin-off of the popular "Great British Bake Off” featuring young bakers competing in various baking challenges. It's a great way to introduce older kids to the world of baking. Although not specifically for kids, the bake off is popular with children too.
To find nearby cooking class for your children, head to Pebble and pop in your postcode.