Kitchen Lab: 3 Ways to Play with Your Food

As I began outlining this article—old-school style with pen and paper, at that—the notion of playing with food was front and center. Not playing as in the rowdy food fights we've all seen on TV shows or movies. They always look like a blast, though, don't they? Except in real life that would be a clean-up situation from you-know-where. Since we don't live on a soundstage complete with a maintenance crew, we real-lifers must find better ways to play with our food. 

A perfect way to do it? Kitchen as classroom. No matter how cool your homeschool setup is, kids will be kids—restless and itching to move around. So indulge them and take class to another room. If it goes down in your home the way it has in mine, it might not even be your idea to begin with. 

Gifts that give back

Last Christmas, I decided to do some in-person shopping. I hadn't factored in social distancing while navigating narrow aisles with a cartful of boxes sticking out on every end, but I threw on a superhero cape with my mask and powered my way through. (To be honest, I didn't enjoy it any less than usual, because the person in me was just happy to be out and about.) 

As I ticked items off my list, I came across a kids' cooking kit with a virtual reality twist. I have to say, the kid in me thought it was pretty cool, and I wanted to try it out myself. More importantly, the grown-up, busy, freelancer, homeschooling mom in me saw opportunity. Into the cart it went. 

The kit was initially for my youngest, who got into making cooking videos last year, à la the kids’ baking show he watches on his Kindle. He calls it "Hoo Kids Recipes," an inaccurate, and adorable, translation of the show title. However, as kids will be kids, the little guy decided his baking career was over just in time for Christmas. But the 9-year-old was smitten with the chef's hat in the kit, so it was a hit, albeit not as I had planned (said every parent on Earth). 

Kids in the Kitchen

After a couple tries, my boys and I figured out the VR aspect of the kit was pretty neat but impractical. They were fine with abandoning futuristic cooking for the old-fashioned kind. As I prepped for our first recipe, my oldest put on the chef's hat and christened himself Chef Zion, complete with French accent. Not to be outdone, little brother Laz took on the role of sous chef. We wrote out a menu for the evening: burgers and homemade fries. It's not the healthiest option, but if I've learned one thing as a mom bent on teaching good health habits, it's that being militant doesn't work. Moderation is the way. 

Zion, remembering our talks about macronutrients, began asking questions. He wanted to know if a burger is good for your body. And I said it can be, as long as you don't pile on unhealthy toppings, because it provides the protein necessary for the cells in our body. He went on to ask if I'd like to swap a regular bun for a lettuce wrap. When your child notices your healthy habits? Swoon. 

As the cooking commenced, so did many lessons. If you'd like to use the kitchen in your homeschooling repertoire, think about how it can cover these three subject areas: 

  1. Math: Schooling in the kitchen presents obvious opportunities for math with weighing and measuring. While those might be advanced concepts, you can simplify them for big-picture lessons. To focus more on the appropriate grade level, write word problems related to the foods you're making. 

  2. Science: Nutrition is another advanced concept you can simplify here for general education. Zoom in on your child's grade level with simple observational learning. For example, I asked my oldest what he thought would happen to his raw burger as it cooked: Would it get smaller or stay the same size?

  3. Writing: Keep it simple by having your kids write up an ingredients list and a menu. If you want to up the ante, formulate writing prompts focusing on the vegetables you've used in your menu. Ex: What are the similarities between cucumbers and lettuce? What are the differences?

Cooking with kids is bursting with benefits. It's a fun way to spend quality time together as well as an opportunity to learn food science, nutrition, and more. Plus, unless it's a total disaster, you have a nice meal at the end of it all. 

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