How cooking can keep kids sharp over the summer

 24 Jul 2016 - 18:52

How cooking can keep kids sharp over the summer
Cooking activities can keep kids sharp over the summer. (Photo: Aviva Goldfarb)

 

By Aviva Goldfarb

No matter your situation when school closes for summer, whether you are happy to get a break from supervising homework and packing lunches, or you're stressed because you're scrambling to fill hours usually reserved for school, you probably wonder how to keep your kids' brains and bodies occupied productively for 10 weeks during summer "vacation."

You may wonder:

- How will I prevent my children's brains from atrophying when they aren't in class for 6 hours a day?

- How will we keep them off of YouTube, tablets and the TV when those digital babysitters are not only easy temptations, but can also feel like the only way we can get a little break?

- And how can I make sure they don't forget their hard-learned math, reasoning and reading skills when school is on hiatus for so long? (Those summer "math packets" don't really cut it when our kids forget about them until the week before school!)

I have found that cooking with our kids is one way we can keep their minds engaged over the summer. Following recipes builds on educational skills, fills time in a fun and productive way, and offers a creative boost to kids that they can't get from staring at a screen.

"While summer is a wonderful time to relax, it can also mark that inevitable backslide of learning for kids," according to Montgomery County, Maryland teacher Ann McCallum, who is also author of the award-winning "Eat Your Homework" series.

"Cooking is an excellent way to not only stop the brain drain, but to accelerate kids' learning. Spending time in the kitchen is an authentic way for kids to make connections to math, science and even history," McCallum said.

Of course, the skills that you build into each cooking project will vary depending on your child's age and ability, but here are a few ideas that have worked well for me and parents I know.

- Counting/Addition: Have your preschooler count cherry tomatoes as he adds them to a recipe. Your child can practice addition by adding the olives and tomatoes together or practice division by sorting the two foods into groups or dividing 20 olives into four equal groups of five.

- Multiplication: Have your child double or triple a recipe such as zucchini noodles. Make sure she writes down the newly multiplied measurements before she begins to cook so she doesn't get lost or confused along the way.

- Fractions: Have your son or daughter measure how many teaspoons in a tablespoon (hint: three), how many 1/4 cups in a cup (four), and how many ounces in a pound (16). If you have a kitchen scale, weighing berries or crackers is a fun way to do this.

- Reading: Have your child read through a whole recipe, such as these homemade tortilla chips, before beginning. Then he can be in charge of following the recipe sequentially as he prepares it.

- Writing: Your child can create her own recipe for trail mix, salad dressing or granola. She can write a description of it at the beginning, and write down the ingredients and measurements, and even type up the recipe up at the end to send to family and friends.

- Reasoning: If he wants homemade popcorn to taste sweeter, spicier, more fragrant or saltier, which ingredients or spices should he add, and how can he make sure the flavors are evenly distributed throughout the freshly popped popcorn? (Hint: blend the spices in a small bowl before adding them).

- Creativity: Design your own "Chopped" or "Top Chef" cooking competition using a basket of ingredients and/or a mystery ingredient and have each child make his or her own recipe for the "judges" to taste. For younger kids, give them a platter of healthy ingredients like grapes, cheese, cereal, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and cucumber slices and let them make funny faces and build towers. Older kids can build structures with colorful toothpicks and make repeating patterns on skewers.

- Science: There are loads of edible science experiments to discover in library books and online, but a few ideas are to emulsify salad dressings, turn cream into butter, whip egg whites into meringue, create new colors by combining food coloring in water, and prevent apples from browning by using citric acid from lemons. Or your child might be thrilled to start his own small herb garden that he can incorporate into family dinners.

Getting your kids cooking this summer will not only help them find practical uses for skills they've learned in school, but it's also likely to help your kids get excited about cooking and build their kitchen skills. Before you know it, your child might be so inspired that she'll be the one making cooking videos, creating a baking business, or cooking elaborate dishes for family dinners. My hope is that you'll both be having so much fun, the days and hours until back-to-school routines return will pass too quickly rather than dragging along.

Aviva Goldfarb is a mom of two, a family dinner expert and founder and chief executive of The Six O'Clock Scramble, an online healthy meal planner. You or your kids might enjoy learning some basic recipes and techniques on her YouTube channel.

The Washington Post