Summertime Kitchen Science For Kids

“Mom, what exciting things are we going to do this summer?” my daughter asked. She was about seven at the time.

“I thought we would relax and read,” I replied. I was tired from the week’s activities.

“Relaxing and reading doesn’t sound very exciting,” she noted.

She told me all about her upcoming school activities. To mark the last week of school, the elementary students would enjoy a picnic, field days with outdoor activities, special treats with the principal and several other activities.

I was ready to relax with a book when she finished detailing the entire end of the year school activities. I gave her a few ideas of what we would be doing this summer. She loves to cook and bake, so we started planning some kitchen adventures.

The end of school marks the beginning of summer activities for children. Why not continue their education by inviting kids into the kitchen to help with food preparation? A kitchen can serve as an extension of the school classroom, and children enjoy hands-on activities.

As children read recipes and measure ingredients, they are sharpening their reading, vocabulary and math skills.

Cooking builds self-esteem. Children develop confidence, responsibility and independence when they can help you prepare a snack or meal. When they get more practice, they will be able to prepare more foods on their own.

Cooking teaches children new skills. When kids begin to cook, they can help stir, pour, shake and tear. As they gain experience, they can learn to spread, mix and knead. Later they can cut, grate and measure.

Cooking gives kids a sense of accomplishment. They have a sense of pride when they finish cooking and share what they have made with their family. Cooking helps kids make smart food choices. If you combine gardening with cooking, children learn how foods grow and are more likely to eat more vegetables.

Let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable at the grocery store or farmers market and then prepare the food together. If your children do not eat whole grains regularly, try making some oatmeal muffins or seasoned popcorn for a snack.

Cooking fosters creativity. They can learn about various methods of preparation and flavor combinations. Growing some pots of herbs and using them on pizza and in dips can foster these flavor explorations.

Try to match the task to the development of the child. Age-appropriate tasks will vary for each child depending on how much experience he or she has in the kitchen.

For example, children ages 5 to 7 can help collect ingredients from the cupboard, refrigerator and freezer; stir and mix ingredients by hand; assist in measuring ingredients; and set the timer.

Around ages 8 to 10, they can preheat the oven; use a microwave; use a blender with assistance; and help cut, slice and dice.

If you invite some young helpers into your kitchen, remember safety first. Be sure everyone ties long hair back, wears short sleeves, and washes his or her hands for at least 20 seconds before getting started.

Teach the kids about what surfaces and objects will be hot, and remind them about utensils that are sharp. Be cautious about cords because young children can pull appliances off countertops. Turn handles of pots and pans on a hot stove inward to prevent burns.

NDSU Extension offers cooking classes in many counties, so check with your local Extension office if they are offered near you. See the brand new NDSU Extension publication, “7 Steps to Making Your Own Pizza” available at   Here’s an easy crust recipe from the publication.

Pizza Crust

2¼ c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 c. skim milk
¼ c. butter, unsalted *at room temperature

Preheat oven to 450 F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup. In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Using dough hook, mix on low speed until one ball of dough forms. If not using a stand mixer, stir together ingredients until a ball of dough forms. Sprinkle flour onto rolling surface, remove dough from bowl and pat with flour to form into solid ball. *Dough may be slightly sticky straight from the mixer. Roll dough into a ball and set onto prepared baking sheet. Use rolling pin coated with flour to roll out dough to desired thickness, ¼ inch thick. Top with desired toppings and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Makes 10 servings of crust. Each serving has 150 calories, 5 grams (g) fat, 4 g protein, 23 carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 220 millgrams sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., F.A.N.D., is a professor and food and nutrition specialist with NDSU Extension.