The process of cooking involves both science skills and life skills with many overlapping characteristics.
Every aspect of cooking - from choosing ingredients to serving the food - touches on such life skills as managing resources, making decisions, and solving problems.
Cooking also has an artistic or creative aspect that allows people to express individuality and cultural connections.
Patricia F. Thonney, an Extension Associate with the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University, also asserts that cooking "provides the opportunity for the 'I can do it.' feelings of accomplishment that are so important to children and youth of all ages and stages of development.
Certainly, any adult who takes the time to teach the process of cooking teaches many skills that help children become informed and caring adults."
Learning cooking skills at an early age may play an important role in promoting overall health and well being.
As children gain experience handling foods, they can prepare more snacks and meals for family, friends and personal enjoyment.
The more familiar children become with a variety of foods and the preparation of them, the more likely they may be to adopt healthful eating practices now and in the future.
A scientist in the kitchen
Thonney shares that a kitchen makes a wonderful science laboratory for children.
"Emphasizing the process of cooking provides an excellent opportunity to promote the science of cooking. From physical changes to chemical reactions, much happens when you prepare food for eating."
While cooking, you use the science of chemistry to mix and heat ingredients to make something new.
You explore biology when you examine vegetables, grains, and other products from nature.
And you learn the science of nutrition when you talk about how foods you eat affect your body.
Much can be learned from the scientific process itself.
Skillful scientists know the equipment they use and how to handle them safely.
They make and follow a plan.
They learn to choose and organize supplies.
They gain confidence and an interest in trying new things.
They observe, ask questions, and wonder what would happen "if I didn't peel the apples; if I used carrots instead of celery; if I left out the salt."
Thonney shares that "unlike most science investigations, in cooking, tasting is essential for evaluating results.
The sensory nature of cooking seeing, touching, smelling, hearing, tasting is very engaging and offers many opportunities for conversation."
Nutrition is only one of many criteria to consider when selecting recipes for children who are learning to cook.
Thonney recommends that you select recipes that:
use low-cost ingredients
use readily available ingredients
require only basic tools and equipment
have easy-to-follow instructions
provide the chance to practice basic preparation skills
require limited adult assistance
are easy to prepare and clean up
teach at least one concept from the Dietary Guidelines
promote locally produced foods
increase experiences with a variety of foods
reflect a variety of cultural contexts
are fun to make
You may have other ideas from your own experiences to add to this list.
Ensuring safety in the kitchen
Safety is important in any cooking activity. Sharp knives, electrical appliances, ovens, and hot foods make kitchens the source of many home accidents. Adequate adult supervision is essential for all cooking experiences.
Another aspect of safety is cleanliness.
The first step before beginning any kitchen activity should be to wash hands thoroughly.
Too often germs that can cause infections and disease are transmitted through improperly handles foods.
Thonney emphasizes that while carefully washing and rewashing hands is not the only precaution for keeping food safe to eat, it is a major one.
"Cooking Up Fun" is a series of food publications developed at Cornell University to help children ages 9 to 12 acquire food skills and appreciate the science of cooking.
For more information about 4-H food and nutrition project materials as well as 4-H learning opportunities, visit with the 4-H youth development staff at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties, 55 E. Main St., Suite 210, Johnstown, New York or call them at 762-3909.