Cooking with Young Children
Updated: Feb 17
As a preschool teacher, I have a love-hate relationship with cooking at school. This might be due to my tenuous relationship with cooking in general. My husband is the primary cook in our family. I used to be able to say that I cook meals on the nights that he is not available, but as the kids and I have gotten older, if he is not cooking dinner it is guaranteed that either 1. There is no dinner, 2. There are leftovers for dinner, or 3. Dinner will consist of grilled cheese and roasted vegetables. Once every couple of months, I go crazy and bake and cook a bunch of things from scratch. Then I go dormant again.
But this is about cooking at school.
When we put down cooking our lesson plans for the week, I will begrudgingly volunteer to lead if it's been a really long time since I have done it. When I arrive at school on the day of said cooking, I cringe when I peek at my planner and realize today is the day I am leading cooking. (I always manage to block it from my memory until the day of.)
Luckily my co teachers do not share my aversion. But here's the thing, once I am doing it with my students, I kind of love it. I love letting children dig in and do real work. Besides all the math, literacy, and science skills that are developed during the cooking process, I think the most important part is the authenticity of it. We do a lot for children, especially when it comes to food. We buy it, prep it, cook it, serve it. I think for many children, food is this thing that magically appears ready to eat before their eyes. I love peeling back that layer of magic and giving them control. There is no pretend cutting or pretend eating (they are experts at that, already). This is the real deal, and even though they are tiny, they get to do it.
This is also why I love some simple recipes even more. Cutting some vegetables to eat with hummus and pita, slicing berries and shaking up some whipping cream in a jar to created whipped cream.
When cookin at school, children can cut; A plastic knife will ususally do the trick on a banana, cucumber, or strawberry.
They can scoop. While it is hard for a young child to scoop a whole cup of flour or sugar at a time, they can use a smaller cup to scoop the flour and pour into the measuring cup. They can keep on scooping and pouring until that measuring cup is filled. That part can be sloooow, but that is the beauty of preschool. You are there to do things in kids' time. If the work to be done is scooping and pouring, and if you believe in the value of those tasks, let it take as long as it takes.
They can pour.
They don't need grown ups to fill in and do the dangerous or complicated parts, because there aren't any.
Baking is great too, but there is still a part that happens behind the scenes. At some point the food has to go into an oven or onto a stove, which means that there is still an abstract part to the process. We do still bake, and those results tend to be delicious. And even if they could not see the entire process, I still believe it is powerful for them to be the makers of the food they eat.
As you may have guessed by now, I love being able to create photo books about the things the children do so they can remember, refelect, and continue to learn from their school experiences in a concrete way.
And of course I like to make books that look pretty. So I created this recipe book template that can be kept in the classroom, and sent home to families to share these recipes. You can edit it, to include your recipes, and photos of your students as they cook. It can be a lovely keepsake or gift to send to families for any holiday or at the end of year.