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If you haven’t already noticed, for the most part, my postings are about food or eating or not eating—basically something involving the digestive system. And I’m not a cookbook author or even a hard-core chef. It’s just that when I was younger, I was told that one of the most intimate things you can do socially with another person is eat. It’s a concept that has stuck with me because it makes sense: Eating brings us together, fosters cooperation and encourages sharing—if not of food, then of emotional and intellectual expression. It is the reason why potlucks, block parties and school mixers are so popular. It is why the concept of the family dinner (or making sure you have at least one of the three daily meals together) is so important. And now experts are confirming what parents have assumed for years: that cooking together is as positive an experience for kids and parents as eating together.

My daughters, Natalie and Nicole, love to cook with me. I enjoy their company in the kitchen, but I’ll admit the extra mess, additional time it takes to prepare food, and the inordinate amount of patience it requires to have three- and five-year-old sous chefs makes me leery of arming them with spatulas and an open bag of flour. However, everywhere you turn these days, educators, nutritionists and chefs are encouraging culinary togetherness, churning out children’s cookbooks, kiddie cooking classes and releasing reports on the benefits that cooking provides kids. A fancy, would-be-afraid-to-bring-my-kids-there-for-fear-of-them-making-a-scene restaurant in our neighborhood even offers free meals to children under ten in an effort to introduce young palates to good food and fine dining.

Cooking teaches children a vast array of skills through an enjoyable task that produces a yummy result at the end of the process. Following recipes exposes kids to reading, as well as organization. Measuring is nothing more than math and putting in the ingredients, mixing, and presenting the dish gives them an opportunity to practice decision-making skills, boost their self-confidence and express their creativity. And as a bonus, when kids feel invested in what they’ve made, they’re more likely to eat it, creating less fussy eaters. By getting kids in to the kitchen to cook with us, we are enjoying mega quality time as well as creating healthy eating patterns which we hope will last a lifetime.

This need to bring our kids into the kitchen starts when they are young, but what about our teens? I remember the home ec class I took in high school twentysome years ago. We made apple pie and learned how to sew on a machine older than my mother. Along with tastes, things have changed in the classroom as well. Now jambalaya, crab cakes with Dijon sauce, and spiced chocolate soufflé are the types of dishes being whipped up by today’s teenage chefs. A growing number of high schools are even embracing a program call Pro Start School to Career. Integrated into “Family and Consumer Science Courses” (apparently the new name for home ec), it is an industry-based curriculum which gives high school students a chance to train as professional cooks and intern in a restaurant as part of their high-school course work.

So grab that spoon and be prepared for a little mess and a lot of fun to come out of mixing it up with your kids in the kitchen. What’s a little flour spilled in our effort to create future foodies?

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