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Parenting in the Kitchen – Lessons in Cooking, Socializing, and Bonding
By Lisa Barnes

Kitchens are where everything happens. It’s not just where meals are prepared – it’s usually the hub of the home, where family and friends get together to spend time. Cooking and eating together is about more than nutrition for the body. It’s also the experience of connecting and interacting with family members, to feed relationships. Try to choose one meal that everyone comes to the table. It doesn’t have to be dinner. This is a challenge as everyone has their own activities (especially as children grow), but starting early promotes the importance of family time together, and also demonstrates a healthy attitude towards food and eating.


• Children love playing with simple pots, pans and wooden spoons. Give them some to play with, or buy them their own play set

• If you’re in the kitchen they want to be there too. Find a place that’s safe, but also allows you to engage with them

• When eating, have them sit at the table in age appropriate high chairs and booster seats

• Interact with children at mealtimes, even when just starting on solid food

• Create a stress fee feeding environment for your baby


There are many lessons to be learned in the kitchen. You can start teaching very early. Cooking is a skill your children will use forever and you’ll create fond memories together. Even a baby’s early development can be taught in the kitchen:

• Colors and numbers – have your baby count the numbers of apples you’re peeling and ask the color

• Vocabulary – tell the baby the names of all your ingredients and ask her to repeat them

• Safety – show them the dangers in the kitchen - what not to touch and why

• Agriculture – where food comes from. How do fruits and vegetables grow? You may even consider planting a garden, so your child can see the whole process

• Table manners – the use of utensils, saying “please” and “thank you”

• Following directions – a recipe can help with reading comprehension and how to follow instructions

As your child ages, you can also teach them how to make family recipes and share with them about your own childhood and family mealtimes.


Cooking does not have to be a major event if you do not have the time or energy. Many people think they can’t cook, but they prepare meals all the time. It does not require a recipe book or hours of time alone in the kitchen. You only need an imagination and a stocked pantry or refrigerator.

• Find a safe place for baby to watch you cook and talk to them to keep them interested – always remember to take a break and spend a few minutes playing or hugging

• Interruptions will happen – make foods that can be prepped easily or make meals in stages

• Allow children to choose foods and meals for the family – they can take pride in the family meal and that they’ve contributed

• When age appropriate, allow children to help with tasks such as mixing dough, peeling vegetables, setting the table, making family name cards

• Children will spill and make mistakes – be patient

Health and Nutrition

You want your child to grow up with healthy attitudes towards food and nutrition. They will look at what and how you eat for guidance. If you are always dieting and not enjoying food, you may pass along negative feeling about food to your children.

• Have them see you enjoying healthy foods

• Avoid foods that you do not want your child to eat. If they see you eating cookies, they will want cookies too.

• Avoid forcing your child to eat – children will eat if they are hungry

• Introduce a variety of flavors and textures to your children’s diet

• Eat whole foods vs. “fast” foods

• Create a stress fee feeding environment for your baby

• Avoid bribing children with sweets

Food and Memories

Food can remind us of special occasions, events, people, etc. “Comfort foods” are those that make you feel good and often remind you of your past or childhood. Usually these foods are rich in flavor and texture (creamy, crunchy). We sometimes rely on these foods to comfort us when we’re not feeling well or want to be reminded of a special time or event. These foods may also reflect an ethnic heritage, culture, region and time. They may be time consuming to make, such as a Thanksgiving dinner or they may be quick and easy (Peanut Butter and Banana sandwiches)

Ask yourself “what are my comfort foods and why?”, and “which foods would I like to become my child’s comfort foods and why?”

Lisa Barnes is the owner of Petit Appetit a cooking service devoted to infants and toddlers. She teaches private and group cooking classes to parents throughout Northern California, and is the author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook (Penguin, March 2005) For more information visit http://www.petitappetit.com


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