Children around the age of 2 or 3 sometimes want to help their mothers with the cooking. At such times, parents can allow their children to help little by little while ensuring that they do not hurt themselves. This will help children acquire skills that will help them in later life and it is a great time for parents to work on something together with their children, according to experts.
Cooking specialist Keiko Eguchi has been cooking with her three children since each of them was about 18 months old. She has published a cookbook about recipes of seasonal and preservative foods that can be cooked with children.
"I've been busy with work. But by cooking with my children, I can spend time with them. In addition, once my children have learned how to cook, it helps me. It also serves as food education for them. So I can kill three birds with one stone," Eguchi said.
Her 10-year-old daughter, who is a fifth-year primary school student, can cook miso soup and omelets by herself. "She couldn't do those things straight away, but she learned how to cook little by little," Eguchi said.
For an omelet, Eguchi separated the cooking process step by step and had her daughter do what she could do, such as breaking, beating and pouring eggs into a pan.
At first, it is sufficient to have children watch their parents doing the cooking. If they want to help, parents should let them do what they can. Tearing leaves off lettuce or cabbage can be done by children about 18 months old.
When there is nothing the children can do, parents should use a little initiative. For example, even if there is no use for onions that day, parents can still give an onion to a child and have them peel it. The onion can be kept in the refrigerator to be used another day.
When children reach the age of 2 or 3, they can break eggs, sift flour and mix ingredients, according to Eguchi. However, they can also create a mess in the kitchen. "It's better to cook meals that may involve flour spills on weekends, when parents feel more relaxed," Eguchi said. "Other ways, such as using a large bowl, can also be good."
At "Kosodate Kitchen" (Child-raising kitchen), which holds cooking classes for children below school age and their parents in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, children aged 2 and above learn how to cook meals using kitchen knives or heat.
Yumiko Tanaka, who teaches there, said: "By learning through experience that a kitchen knife is sharp or that a flame is very hot, children will become able to use them carefully. But adults should pay full attention to prevent injuries, and teach the children how to use the utensils."
It is necessary to prepare a sharp kitchen knife that fits a child's hand. When a child cuts something with a kitchen knife, an adult should lend a hand at first to let the child know how to hold the knife and ingredients correctly.
When placing a kitchen knife on a work table after use, it is necessary to have children make sure they place it on the far side of a cutting board, with the sharp edge facing the opposite direction.
When children mix ingredients in a pot or a pan over a flame, parents tend to hold the handle for them. But if a parent does this, one of the children's hands will be free and could touch the pot or the pan. For this reason, it's better to teach children to hold the handle firmly.
"The perfect time to start teaching children how to cook is when they start showing interest in cooking for themselves," Tanaka said. "Start from what you can do and enjoy cooking together."
Children's ages and approximate kitchen ability
18 months and over
Tearing lettuce or cabbage, crushing tofu, pounding down cucumbers in a plastic bag with a rolling pin
2 and over
Peeling onions, breaking eggs, mixing ingredients for pancakes
3 and over
Using a kitchen knife with adult support, sifting flour, cutting ingredients with a cutter, breading, rolling shiratama dumplings, putting fillings on gyoza skins and wrapping them, sandwiching gyoza fillings with two skins
4 and over
Wrapping gyoza fillings with one skin
5 and over
Making onigiri rice balls or omelets, washing dishes