Families that spend time preparing meals together cook up more than just nutritious meals. They also make warm memories, said Jill Jacobs, owner of Young Chefs Academy in Gahanna.

Families that spend time preparing meals together cook up more than just nutritious meals. They also make warm memories, said Jill Jacobs, owner of Young Chefs Academy in Gahanna. Jacobs urges parents to spend time in the kitchen with their children. "It brings families back together," she said.

Teaching children cooking skills
provides a chance for families to spend quality time together, improves kids' eating habits and creates opportunities to teach math and science skills. Most children - regardless of gender or age - are curious about cooking, said Jacobs, who has many male students.

"I don't think you need to 'sell it' at all," she said. "You just have to be patient with it and not worry about the mess."

One of the neat things about cooking is that it can appeal to siblings with a variety of interests or skills, she added. It can bring together the academic and the athlete in the family. "It's something that all children have in common," she said. "Everybody eats."

Children who help prepare food are more likely to eat it, added Marti Andrews, president of the Ohio Dietetic Association. "Studies show that when children help prepare the food or get involved in any way, they tend to eat better," said Andrews, who works for the Ohio State Extension Office.

Children's jobs can range from washing vegetables and preparing salads to mixing and chopping. Choose tasks that are age-appropriate and provide adult supervision. Kids are also more likely to try a new food when they've had a hand in bringing it to the table, Andrews said. "There are lots of benefits to having them help."

Cooking gives Kelsey Lucas a sense of pride, said the 9-year-old's mother, Lynda. "She just beams when everybody tells her how good her food tastes," the Gahanna resident said.

Letting the kids help can actually make preparing meals less stressful, said Megan Bhatt, who grew tired of trying to cook and entertain her children. Now, Emma, 5, and Rajiv, 4, help her crack eggs, measure ingredients and stir sauces. "They think it's a lot of fun," she said. The children love to watch cooking shows with their mother to find new recipes. Once they've selected a recipe, they make a grocery list and head to the store. Bhatt also tries to sneak in math and reading lessons. "Emma can read fractions because of cooking," she said.

There's a wealth of lessons to be learned from cooking, Andrews said. "It's definitely a learning experience," she said. Michael Evans agrees. He's a member of the curriculum team for Connections Academy, an online school that serves students in Ohio. The school has several lessons centered of food preparation and has created a cookbook with recipes from staff and students. "Cooking has always been a hit with our students," he said. "It's a great way to teach math and science.

Measuring cups and spoons can be a lesson in fractions. A trip to the grocery store can be a chance to study budgeting. Baking is really just a chemistry lab," he said.

Other lessons can center on doubling or halving a recipe, Evans added. "But some things aren't multiples. Doubling the temperature doesn't result in cooking something in half the time."

Tips for introducing young children to cooking

2-year-olds are learning to use the large muscles in their arms. Try activities such as:

Scrubbing vegetables Dipping food Washing and tearing lettuce and salad greens Breaking bread into pieces Carrying unbreakable items to the table

3-year-olds are learning to use their hands. Try activities such as:

Pouring liquids into batter (you measure first) Mixing batter or other dry and wet ingredients together Shaking a drink in a closed container Spreading butter or spreads Kneading dough Washing vegetables and fruit Serving foods Putting things in the trash
4- and 5-year-olds are learning to control small muscles in their fingers. Try activities such as:

Juicing oranges, lemons, and limes Peeling some fruits and vegetables (bananas and even onions) Mashing soft fruits and vegetables Scrubbing vegetables (potatoes, mushrooms) Cutting soft foods with a plastic knife (mushrooms, hard-boiled eggs) Pressing cookie cutters Measuring dry ingredients Cracking open/breaking eggs Beating eggs with an egg beater Setting the table Wiping up after cooking Clearing the table after a meal
Cooking safety tips:

Prevent food poisoning by:
Always washing hands before cooking. Not eating raw eggs or raw meats. Waiting until the food is cooked before sampling it. Do not sample uncooked foods.
Have children stand at the level of the activity. Use a stool if necessary. Use cooking supplies that will not break, such as plastic measuring cups and stainless-steel bowls. Use plastic knives or butter knives for cutting. Provide constant supervision. Always watch children when they use knives, mixers, or the stove. Supervise the use of ovens, stoves and other kitchen appliances.
Source: California Department of Public Health

Melissa Kossler Dutton has worked as a reporter for more than a decade. She's a frequent contributor to a variety of Ohio publications. She lives in Bexley with her husband and two sons.