One of the things I love most about cooking is the opportunity it provides for learning—for both myself and my children. There are so many great lessons children can learn by preparing a recipe. Many parents recognize the kitchen as an excellent place to practice and develop math skills, but cooking with kids is s also the perfect time to teach your children about the science behind cooking.
During the cooking process, there are many changes that happen to our food to make it more palatable, digestible, safe and, in some cases, more nutritious. The options are endless for different experiments you can conduct with your children in the kitchen! Of course, the best experiments are those that you can eat at the end, too.
Here are three food science experiments that give children the opportunity to observe how food changes during cooking:
- The Maillard reaction is the browning process that food goes through as it is cooked. An obvious example of this process is baking bread. The texture, moisture and consistency of the bread changes as it bakes.
- Zucchini bread is an excellent, simple recipe to make so you can see the Maillard reaction in action! Watch this snacktivity video to see just how easy it is to do with your child.
- Fermentation is the process of converting sugars in a food to acids, gases or alcohol. I’m certainly not suggesting you do the latter with your children, but there are many ways to see fermentation at work in food, especially with yogurt or kefir. Kefir is essentially a drinkable yogurt packed with healthy probiotics (the bacteria that is good for our gut) and can serve as a substitute for buttermilk in many recipes.
- Emulsion, the combining of two liquids that don’t normally mix, is another fun process to explore while cooking. Most people know water and oil don’t mix. But if you add a lightly beaten egg to the mixture, they suddenly do! The egg yolk acts as an emulsifier for the two liquids so they can combine together. Making your own salad dressing is an easy way to watch this happen. See a child-friendly recipe for Mandarin Orange Vinaigrette below.
Recipe: Mandarin Orange Vinaigrette
- ¼ balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup mandarin orange juice (from a drained can of mandarin oranges, which you can eat or use on the salad)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (the emulsifier)
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, mandarin orange juice and Dijon mustard.
- Slowly whisk in the olive oil, adding just a little at a time.
- Season with salt and pepper. Serve over leafy greens, mandarin oranges and whatever other toppings you desire, and enjoy this kid-friendly dinner! Looking for more family dinner ideas? Check out this blog post.