Cooking with Kids: Permission to Play With Your Food

Kids can certainly be the pickiest of eaters (we know, we were one of them!), but when it comes to getting into the kitchen and doing some hands-on cooking, we've found that children are almost unanimously enthusiastic.

There's something about the simple alchemy of transforming a handful of ingredients into a completely new dish that enchants and inspires. Little ones love to touch and taste each ingredient, while older children really get into the science and creativity of cooking. And young or old, cooking stimulates a healthy appreciation toward food and a healthy appetite.

Here are a few of our tips for getting kids involved with cooking. What are yours?

Make it an art project: Take some inspiration from Japanese bento boxes! Give younger children bowls of cut veggies and other ingredients and let them craft their own bento-style edible landscape. Older children can get more involved by cutting their own vegetable shapes and using a wider range of ingredients to sculpt favorite characters or scenes from books.

Make it a science project: Just like a science experiment, go through recipes step by step, explaining and answering questions as you go. Measure ingredients using both measuring cups and a scale to see if there's a difference. Let kids touch and smell and taste as you go to see what happens with each step. Make the same recipe multiple times and make little changes to see how each batch comes out.

Make it magical: "Add that cup of fairy dust to the cookie batter, my dear? And then maybe a handful of shark bites?" We love this ingenious idea from Megan at Plum Pudding for filling old spice bottles with different healthy 'sprinkles,' and then letting kids re-imagine the contents and design labels. We think that some creative relabeling of basic kitchen staples could really spark some culinary magic!

Make it from a book: Have a Hungry Reader Challenge with your own family--find a food scene from a favorite book and make that your kitchen project! You and your kids can spend time researching the recipes, finding the ingredients, and then pulling it all together. And if you can't find a recipe for green eggs and ham or Willy Wonka's edible buttercups, don't let that stop you! Get creative with ingredients and don't worry about how it turns out.

Here are a few extra links from the Kitchn and our sister site, Oh-Dee-Doh:
How to Bake with Kids
Decorating Fruit
Dinosaur Soup and Other Dubious Recipes Written by Children
India Tree Natural Decorating Supplies
Top Ten Play Kitchens

(Image Credits: Megan at Plum Pudding, Fotologic via Flickr Creative Commons)