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A Closer Look at Cooking

Cooking as a Tool for Stimulating Development in Early Childhood Education

Integrating Food, Nutrition, and Cooking into the Early Childhood Curriculum can be done in accordance with all of the standards for developmentally appropriate curriculum!

Developmentally appropriate curriculum -
is relevant, engaging, and meaningful to children,
respects individual, cultural, and linguistic diversity,
builds on what the children already know and are able to do,
provides opportunities for rich conceptual development,
engages children actively in the learning process,
encourages exploration as well as learning established procedures,
has intellectual integrity re: the relevant standards of the disciplines,
addresses the development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes,
meets age-appropriate goals in all domains of development, and
is flexible so that it can be adapted to the individual needs of the child.

*See Bredekamp and Rosegrant (1995). Reaching Potentials:
  Transforming Early Childhood Curriculum and Assessment. NAEYC

Cooking at the Children's School
Children ages 3-6 years
Small Kitchen with a low table for 6-8 children
Refrigerator, Freezer, Stove, Microwave, Sink & Cupboards
Occasional projects during Activity Time of Preschool
Weekly projects in the Extended Day Program & Kindergarten, sometimes more

Use of Cooking to Facilitate Developmental Goals

1. Self-Esteem & Independence - encouraging each child 's pride in individual characteristics, families, experiences, and accomplishments and each child's responsibility for personal care, actions, and words. List healthy foods in each of the food groups. Describe the foods that are commonly eaten at home. Identify foods that are chosen because of the child's culture and/or religious beliefs. Discuss family roles re: cooking, cleanup, etc. State basic safety rules for cooking and eating, and cleanup. Identify important steps for sanitary cooking, eating, and cleanup. Make healthy choices for safety, sanitation, and eating. Follow basic kitchen safety procedures. Eat independently using appropriate utensils. Develop basic skills for washing dishes, disposing wastes, storing food ... Feel a sense of accomplishment / pride re: eating and cooking. Appreciate that part of taking care of our bodies is to make safe, clean and healthy choices.
2. Interaction & Cooperation- promoting children's social skills for diverse adult and peer relations, including listening, turn-taking, following directions, rules and routines, group participation, care for shared materials, and conflict resolution. Describe cooking and eating procedures. Discuss table manners and appropriate conversation. Follow kitchen routines for setup, cooking, cleanup, etc. Follow directions re: cooking procedures. Respond to correction respectfully. Share and take turns when working with peers. Help peers when the need arises. Use table manners and polite table talk. Use words to resolve conflicts. Willingly persist during an extended project from start to a delicious result. Appreciate the work that food production and cooking involves. Respect differences in cooking and eating practices.
3. Communication- facilitating comprehension and expression skills beginning with oral and progressing to written language. Learn vocabulary for foods, utensils, cooking, cleaning, etc. Identify the category labels for the food groups. Recognize containers associated with particular foods. Associate symbols on a recipe with ingredients and utensils. Identify letters and numbers used in recipes, food ads, etc. Recognize the basic recipe and menu format. Orally express experiences and ideas related to food, nutrition, and cooking. Ask questions. Answer questions. Participate in conversation during cooking activities. Enjoy books and stories about food, nutrition, and cooking. ³Read² recipes by using pictures and words. Retell the steps in a cooking procedure in sequence. Dictate stories re: cooking experiences. Create a Foods Book to record tasting experiences. Write pretend recipes, menus, etc. during dramatic play. Feel confident in communicating food preferences, questions, etc. Appreciate the value of print for communicating cooking directions.
4. Discovery & Exploration- fostering a positive attitude toward learning through questioning, observing, and experimenting with varied materials related to diverse themes. Identify sources of favorite foods (e.g., French fries come from potatoes). Discuss the way that food provides energy and nutrients for the body to grow and stay healthy. Learn about vitamins, digestion, health, recycling, etc. State different jobs associated with food (chef or cook, baker, preparer, dishwasher, waiter/waitress, host/hostess, sanitation engineer, maintenance engineer, gardener, farmer). Explore foods with all of the senses. Sort foods by color, shape, texture, food group, etc. Order foods by weight, size, etc. Plant and grow food. Observe the physical changes that ingredients undergo during food preparation. Practice counting, measuring, timing, etc. Explain why each step in the cooking procedure needs to be taken. Review and record the steps in a growing, cooking, or cleaning procedure. Take a positive approach to new situations. Initiate varied methods, ideas, etc. View mistakes as a part of learning.
5. Physical Capabilities- giving children opportunities to use their growing bodies to develop small and large motor skills and coordination. Identify cooking utensils and their functions. Recognize the appropriate way to hold utensils. State the directions for using utensils. Small Motor (slicing, scraping , cutting, chopping, grinding, grating, rolling, kneading, pouring, stirring, spreading, squeezing, molding, peeling, cracking, peeling, beating, coring, shaking, etc.). Large Motor (washing, wiping, planting, digging, pulling weeds, harvesting, watering, etc.). Feel confident in use of utensils for cooking, eating, cleaning, etc. Appreciate that practice will help improve skills.
6. Artistic Expression & Appreciation- cultivating each child's ability to express ideas and emotions through art, music, movement, and drama. Learn songs to help remember facts. Associate colors, shapes, etc. with particular foods. Associate movements and rhythms with particular cooking procedures. Use foods and cooking utensils for artistic expressions (e.g., vegetable prints, macaroni collages, pudding painting). Decorate food in varied ways (e.g., cookie decorating, food arrangement on platters, etc.). Use drawing to represent foods, record cooking procedures, etc. Participate in songs and fingerplays re: food, cooking, nutrition, etc. Role Play food-related occupations (chef or cook, baker, preparer, dishwasher, waiter/waitress, host/hostess, sanitation engineer, maintenance engineer, gardener, farmer). Value diverse ways of expressing ourselves through art, music, drama, and creative movement. Appreciate the creative efforts of others.

Criteria for Choosing Cooking Projects
Children First
choose foods children enjoy
pick hands-on recipes, ones that involve cutting, chopping, kneading, etc.
favor recipes with early gratification (taste results soon)
begin with simple recipes (few steps, few ingredients) and work up to the harder ones
Curricular Issues
choose foods related to thematic units, food groups, holidays, and special occasions
Practical Issues
consider availability of ingredients, utensils, baking pans, etc.
use surplus foods in your center first -consider time limits
relative to preparation and baking time
consider the number of servings

Keys for Classroom Management of Cooking
Safety First!
safe cooking environment (seated around a large table, away from stove,
dangerous utensils out of reach, keep cords away)
before handling food, wash hands in warm, soapy water, then rinse and dry thoroughly
make sure children are elevated to a comfortable counter height
with a stable stool or chair
always wipe up floor spills right away to prevent slipping
wear child-sized aprons when cooking
tie long hair back
avoid long sleeves
keep children away from stove
keep all pot handles pointing away from children
keep pot holders, trivets, and cooling racks handy
pull out the oven rack part way before removing pans
substitute a clean pair of scissors or egg slicer for a knife
use serrated knives rather than dull or slicing knives
use plastic knives for cutting soft ingredients
hold only the knife handle, never the blade
keep sharp part of the knife pointed away when cutting
pre-cut ingredients if they're too hard for children to cut
be careful with eggs! (don't use cracked eggs or eat anything with raw eggs)
check expiration dates on ingredients

For Smooth Cooking Projects
check every child's records for ALLERGIES before selecting recipes
always try/test the recipes beforehand!
any preparation that adult must do should be done ahead of time
make sure you have sufficient quantities of all ingredients before beginning
pre-measure any ingredients that are too difficult for children to measure
have stages of a project finished ahead of time to save time
use an ice chest if you don't have a refrigerator near your classroom
toaster ovens and microwaves work well for many recipes if a
conventional oven isn't available
discuss rules of safety/sanitation before you begin (see above)
follow the rules consistently
keep cooking groups small
determine appropriate # of children to do activity beforehand
transfer the recipe to a large chart or overhead transparency
divide the jobs among class members or have them take turns being chefs and tasters
have the children do both the cooking and cleanup
put bowls and cutting boards on top of damp paper towels to prevent slipping
to crush ingredients, put in plastic freezer bag first
have enough ingredients for children to taste and manipulate as project is done
try to have extra ingredients on hand in case of mishaps
a handy substitution chart is helpful to have!
research shows that children need to be offered a new food at least 8-10
times before most will try it
a taste can be as small as one half a teaspoon
let the children determine how little they want to taste
color, texture, and flavor all make a difference
never force a child to eat a particular food
offer it, encourage and compliment the child for trying, then offer it again another time
point out children who are trying new foods (peer pressure can function as a
catalyst for trying new foods)
be a role model! you taste it too!!
keep a camera or tape recorder in the kitchen for documentation
(it helps to have an assistant to do the photography)

Appropriate Cooking Projects for Preschool & Kindergarten
There are multiple effective approaches to Planning Curriculum such that it meets the full spectrum of developmental objectives by including an emphasis on food, nutrition, and cooking. Three major approaches are introduced here. Examples of each approach are included in the resource section.

Food Frames
One way to integrate food, nutrition, and cooking into the curriculum is to develop units with food as the central frame. The unit could be organized alphabetically (Foods from A-Z, Cooking from A-Z, etc.), by food groups, by meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack), by origins (foods from plants vs. animals), or by the children's food interests (a whole unit on bread, apples, carrots, etc.).

Literature Links
Another way to integrate food, nutrition, and cooking into the curriculum is to use cooking activities as one extension of a story-based unit.
celery cut in half and filled with cream cheese with two pretzels added for wings
round sugar cookies with 2 quarter circles as "ears", decorated with chocolate chips & M&Ms
THE THREE LITTLE PIGS - "Pigs in a Blanket" - hotdog wrapped in a crescent roll (PHOTO)
PUMPKIN, PUMPKIN - Toasted Pumpkin Seeds (PHOTO)
STREGA NONA - cold pasta salad with chopped veggies and italian dressing (PHOTO)
CAPS FOR SALE - "Frosty Frozen Bananas" (PHOTO)
frozen bananas on a stick, dipped in melted chocolate rolled in nuts or sprinkles
JOHNNY APPLESEED - Baked Caramel Apples (PHOTO)
GREGORY the TERRIBLE EATER - "Dippety Do" (PHOTO) delicious dip & crisp fresh veggies
Theme Threads
Yet another way to integrate food, nutrition, and cooking into the curriculum is to use cooking activities to extend and reinforce the concepts in a thematic unit. For example, here are some cooking ideas that could be used in the following thematic units:
FALL/FARM - toasted pumpkin seeds, baked caramel apples, mighty milk, beehive cupcakes
CELEBRATIONS - friendship fruit salad, birthday cones, grandma's potato latkes
WINTER - hot cocoa mix, snow ice cream
ANIMALS - rabbit food salad, mouse cookies, dog bones,
HERITAGE - (Mexico) - traditional foods from Mexico
DINOSAURS - bread dinosaurs, chocolate chip cookie excavation
NURSERY RHYMES & FAIRY TALES - gingerbread people, candy houses
SPRING - butterfly bites, marshmallow spiders, Ugh! Worms in Mud
Related Field Experiences and/or Dramatic Play Centers:
Garden, Farm, Grocery Store, Bakery, Cafeteria
Related Literature
The Kids' No-Cook Cookbook by Beth Goodman
My First Cookbook by Rena Coyle and Jerry Joyner
Book Cooks by Janet Bruno and Rachel Herrera
Bread Basket Cookbook by Sue John Kids
Cooking by Vicki Lansky
More than Graham Crackers: Nutrition Education and Food Preparation with Young Children
by Nancy Wanamaker, Kristin Hearn, and Sherrill Richarz
Amazing, Magical Jell-O Desserts Once Upon a Recipe by Karen Greene
My First Baking Book by Rena Coyle
Cooking Art: Easy Edible Art for Young Children by Mary Ann F. Kohl and Jean Potter
Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert
Alpha-Pets: An Interdisciplinary Approach Incorporating the Alphabet
by Joann Bruce Zitlaw and Cheryl Standish Frank
My Cookbook by Caroline Green
Food Help's Me Grow (two posters)
National Dairy Council Eatwell's Growing Party (14 food picture cards)
Don't Forget the Oatmeal (supermarket word book)
Bread, Bread, Bread (photographs) by Ann Morris
Mr. Jolly's Sidewalk Market (12 month) Holiday by Laura Jean Allen
Make Me a Peanut Butter Sandwich (food production)
by Ken Robbins Hello Henry by Isle-Margaret Vogel
Something Good by Robert Munsch
Corn is Maize (a let's read and find-out book) by Aliki The Giant
Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Where Butterflies Grow by Joanne Ryde
A Pumpkin in a Pear Tree by Ann Cole Strega
Nona's Magic Lessons by Tomie de Paola
More Spaghetti I Say! by Rita G. Gelman
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slabodkina
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow
Johnny Appleseed by Steven Kelley and William Marrow
The Giant Apple by Ursel Scheffler
Gregory the Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharmat
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
Stone Soup retold by Willis Lindquist