Elmo went on "The Tonight Show" recently to promote "Sesame Street Let’s Cook." He helped Jimmy Fallon and his guests Jason Schwartzman and Questlove cook Waffle Grilled Cheese and Sloppy Oscars (a version of Sloppy Joes).
My answer is always the same. I let my kids do those things when I though they were ready for them. There is no specific age where a child magically gains the coordination and maturity to handle a sharp knife or to remember to turn the stove off after using it. You have to know your child’s abilities and give lots of instruction and supervision when they first start doing these things on their own.
I believe that most kids are ready for those things at a younger age than many cooking-with-kids books and websites suggest. When my boys were younger, I grew very frustrated with kids’ cookbooks that were recipes for salads, sandwiches, smoothies and veggies and dips only. There was no cooking involved — I assume for fear of getting a child near a flame or hot stove.
That’s why I’m pleased that “Sesame Street Let’s Cook” has many recipes that require actual cooking. The cookbook is geared for kids ages 2 to 5 and emphasizes that adult supervision is always required. Each recipe has at least two steps that young children can safely and easily accomplish. There is a helpful Elmo symbol next to those steps in each recipe. Of course, a parent or caregiver who knows a child’s abilities can allow the child to do more if he or she has the skills.
If my boys were younger, I’d buy “Sesame Street Let’s Cook” to inspire them. They’re a bit old to be swayed by Elmo now, but the New York Times has printed the recipe for Elmo’s Mac 'N' Cheese 'N' Bits, and it looks like something my teens would like. I’ll be getting at least one of my boys in the kitchen with me soon to help make them.
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