When children engage in the cooking and snack area, they learn the following skills (Foote, 2001):
- Food preparation skills such as washing their hands before beginning to cook, measuring and mixing skills, using small appliances, and cooking safety.
- Math skills such as one-to-one correspondence, measuring, fractions, and counting.
- Science skills such as observing, measuring, predicting, physical properties of matter, and changes in matter.
- Literacy skills such as sequencing, left to right progression, word and letter identification, reading for information, and new vocabulary (directional words, sensory words).
- Fine motor skills. Cooking provides the opportunity to use hand strength and coordination (kneading, stirring), eye-hand coordination (pouring), and fine motor skills (cutting, peeling, using a melon baller) (Colker, 2005).
- Appropriate nutrition and healthy eating habits. Many children in the United States are not consuming a well-balanced diet. For example, they are eating too much fat and not enough vegetables (Colker, 2005). Food preferences begin when children are very young (Barbour, 2004). However, children are more likely to experiment with and taste food they have helped to prepare. Through discussing healthy food choices and providing children opportunities to prepare healthy foods, we can help children to develop lifetime healthy habits.
- Cultural knowledge. Through cooking, children can learn about their own and other’s cultures.
- Socio-emotional development. As children cook, they develop initiative, responsibility, self-regulation, and a feeling of competence (Colker, 2005).
The cooking and snack center should include the following:
- An attractive place for a small group to sit and eat (you might add a tablecloth and a vase of flowers to the dining table).
- A counter or additional table for preparing the snack or setting out the tasting tray.
- A sink for ease of washing hands.
- A conveniently placed electrical outlet for the occasional use of a blender, toaster, or other small appliance.
- A system for designating the number of children that can use the center at one time. Some programs provide four aprons and require that all the children who are cooking wear an apron, others only set out four chairs at the table with the rule that you can only enter the area if there is an empty chair, others post a sign with the number of children allowed.
- Aprons that are hung on hooks or a child-size coat tree.
- Clean up supplies (covered garbage can, sponges, child-size sponge mop).
- Storage for small appliances, cooking equipment and utensils, and serving utensils.
- Recipe books, food magazines, and blank recipe cards for children to write their own recipes.
- Nutritional information (healthy-unhealthy snack poster, Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children poster).
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