How to Empower Kids & Have Fun in the Kitchen

How to Empower Kids & Have Fun in the Kitchen

by Sharon Wong

I am honored to share with you a few ideas about how to empower kids with food allergies by teaching them how to cook and learn some practical skills to manage their food allergies.   

I was an elementary school teacher before I became a mom or learned about food allergies. My babies were willing students. We read a lot of stories, which led us into the garden to grow our own food and play with dirt and bugs. I invited them into the kitchen with me to cook some of the foods we read about and gave them age-appropriate tasks. My “lesson plans” for this summer were the inspiration for this guest post.

Toddler – Kindergarten (ages 2-5)

This is such a sweet age to invite the little kids into the kitchen with you. Little kids are naturally curious, and they want to spend this quality time with you. Your objective is to make the time together fun and delicious.

  • Invite them to help you measure, pour, and stir ingredients when you cook or bake and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Your kitchen might become a little messy, but treasure the time together. Celebrate the process by taking photos.
  • Engage their five senses. My favorite activity is touching herbs and then smelling and tasting them.
  • Read children’s picture books about family and foods from a variety of cultures. My sons loved reading Malka Drucker’s Grandma’s Latkes, and we made homemade latkes from scratch.
  • Introduce the idea of reading labels for food allergens. If your family observes additional dietary preferences, explain why they’re important to you.
  • Teach them how to clean up after working in the kitchen. Young children can help put ingredients away, wipe down counters, and throw away garbage.

Young Children (ages 6-10)

Now that kids can read recipes and follow instructions, let them explore their interest in food and gradually build up their skills so that they can read a recipe and be able to make a simple recipe with some combination of help or adult supervision.

  • Have your children pick out some children’s cookbooks at the library or bookstore. Or you can have them flip through your cookbooks and put post-it notes on recipes they want to try.
  • Teach them 1-2 basic skills every time you cook together. One day you might teach them how to wash strawberries or use a salad spinner to dry your salad greens. Use small appliances together.
  • Safety is a high priority. Build up to more advanced skills such as using a knife safely and how to use a stove (always with supervision).
  • Emphasize food safety such as how to avoid cross-contact and cross-contamination. Hands-on practice will not only keep them safe but will give them skills to advocate for themselves in other situations.
  • Continue to teach clean up skills such as washing dishes by hand, loading and unloading a dishwasher, putting things away, wiping down counters, etc..

Tweens – Young Teens (ages 11-14)

This is when all your efforts to make cooking together fun and teaching basic skills come together so that they can make a recipe from start to finish without adult help.

  • Parents need to let go a bit. Kids need to practice taking care of themselves. Can they make a simple breakfast, pack a lunch for school, or cook dinner for the family?
  • Have your children take more responsibility for reading labels and calling manufacturers as needed for allergen advisories.
  • Sometimes circumstances beyond our control happen and our kids need to be ready. I needed 4-6 weeks of rest after a major surgery a few years ago, and even though my husband and our friends helped, my older son cooked some weeknight meals when he was 11 years old.

Older Teens (ages 15-18)

I find this stage the most daunting and potentially the most rewarding. I know my time with my sons will become shorter. As they become busier, they need to manage their time as well as food allergies, and the next few summers may be my last chance to help them become independent adults with practical skills.

  • Build up their repertoire of cooking skills so that they can prepare foods using a variety of methods (stir fry, BBQ, steam, roast, etc.) and try new recipes.
  • Reinforce healthy eating habits as well as allergen-awareness skills.
  • Make it social. Have your children invite their friends to cook with them or set up a DIY meal such as a taco bar or top your own pizza meal.

The end goal is for our children to be able to buy ingredients and prepare meals that are filling, healthy, and allergy safe without too much fuss. And if we’re lucky, maybe we can enjoy some lovely meals without having to cook the meals ourselves. I would love to hear your ideas and if any of my suggestions were useful for you. You can find me on most social media platforms as @nutfreewok. Thank you for reading, and thank you FAACT for the opportunity to share with your followers!

P.S. For extra fun, try my Chocolate Crinkle Cookies recipe!

Sharon Wong is the founder of Nut Free Wok, a blog about “Allergy Aware Asian Fare.”