Food is the main ingredient in family gatherings and holiday and cultural celebrations. How much do children get involved in family cooking projects? What do they know about food preparation? What would they like to learn? With this project, children explore the world of food and cooking through their own questions, interests, and investigations.

Beginning the Project

A discussion of favorite family foods during group or circle time is a great way to assess children's interest in this potential project topic and to "whet their appetites!" Bring to the group-time circle your favorite food to share. As children are tasting it, discuss how you prepared the food. Invite children to tell what they know about it. Talk about why this food is a family favorite and, perhaps, the traditions or rituals connected with the food. Then you might ask: "What is your favorite food?" Make an experience chart of their favorites, noting any similarities in particular types of foods. You can evaluate children's interest in cooking by asking: "Do you know, how these foods are made? Would you like to know how to cook them?" Mark on the chart the foods children are interested in cooking for further explorations.

Assess What Children Can Do. Young children often learn to make foods through shared cooking experiences at home, especially around the holidays. Ask children how they prepare a' dish for a Thanksgiving feast. You might get some funny and fantastic stories!

Problem-Solve. Problem solving is another way to explore the process of cooking together. Ask children to brainstorm different ways (real and pretend) to scramble an egg. What tools would you need? Using an electric fry pan and an assortment of cooking utensils, turn your group time into a cooking show a la Julia Child! Ask children to take turns demonstrating their method of scrambling and then assist them in cooking it in the pan. Don't forget to taste and compare the results. And read Dr. Seuss' classic Green Eggs and Ham.

Explore Family Food Customs. All these activities naturally lead to a discussion of family food customs. Invite children to share what they know about the ways food is a part of their family celebrations. Ask: "How does your family prepare foods for celebrations? Who prepares them? What foods does your family make and eat that you don't see at your friends' houses?" Note children's suggestions on experience-chart paper and compare similarities and differences.

Collect Investigative Questions. With all these wonderful introductory experiences under their belts (and in their tummies), children are ready to create the investigative questions they will use in the Cooking Project. Write children's responses to these questions: What do you know about cooking? What would you like to find out about cooking? What would you like to learn how to cook?

Cook Up Ideas Together. Based on the children's answers to the above questions, the project widens the circle started at group time into food and cooking explorations around the room and beyond. Remember: Ask children to devise a plan for how they want to explore answers to their questions and how they want to learn about cooking.

Going Further

Field Work: Children might first visit your program's food preparation area. Armed with questions-plus camera and clipboards for recording findings-children get a firsthand view of what steps are involved in preparing the foods they eat at school.

Delicious Field Trips: Children can explore the world of cooking at a bakery, grocery store (shopping for ingredients), pizza parlor, soup and salad shop, mall food court, or farmer's market.

Family Experts: Invite families and friends to share their favorite cultural-celebration food with the class. (Be sure adults let children participate in the preparation.) How is the food prepared? What does the family do in the cooking and eating of it? Encourage children to ask questions and taste new things!

Stir Up More Ideas: As children learn from their field work, more questions for investigation may arise. Remember to refer back to (and update) their original questions at the daily group-time meeting. For instance, children may have become interested in the way the cafeteria workers prepared salad and decide to create a class salad bar for snack time. Everything-from the creation of the shopping list of ingredients, to the collecting of the appropriate utensils, to the creation of the salad-is done by the children.

Share: Eventually, you and the class will feel the project winding down. This is the time to go back to the original experience charts and invite children to evaluate what they have learned about cooking foods and about each other's family foods and celebrations. What did we find out in this project?

Celebrate: A culminating event can be something large like a class-created Cultural Foods Smorgasbord to share with the families or something smaller like the writing and drawing of a Class Cookbook. One kindergarten class decided to have a bake sale and give the money they earned to a local children's charity.