How to Teach Kids to be Kind Through Cooking

There is no better activity than cooking to teach children an extensive range of skills.

The truth is we live in a society where the prevalence of bullying and exclusion is at an all-time high, especially among youth. It’s no longer about stealing lunch money or wedgies. Today’s bullies cut deep and the consequences are long-lasting and traumatic. Throw in some social media and, with a click of a button, you can now bully ten times the people, in a fraction of the time and it can even be anonymous! This means there is no risk and no consequences and that is dangerous and damaging for all parties involved. 

On World Kindness Day, I wanted to reflect on the importance of kindness in our society. As an educator with a deep love of children and people, all I want is to live to see a world where there is more raising up than putting down. More standing up for others, rather than standing by. I am pleased to say that it is possible, and I have seen it and live it every single day. We simply need to focus on being proactive by raising a generation of youth who are confident in themselves, taught the importance of teamwork, encouraged to share positive thoughts about one another and navigate conflict in a healthy manner. 

In my experience, I have found that the key is teaching children how to be kind. But it isn't as simple as telling kids to be kind or rewarding them when they are kind. We need to help them understand what kindness is and teach them to connect with their own motivators for being kind. Through the act of doing, we encourage them to reflect, dig deep in their hearts and draw fulfillment through spreading joy. No, it is not a simple task, but there is a secret ingredient - there is something that teaches kindness more than anything else - and that is Cooking. 

As a chef, teacher and founder of Rooks to Cooks, an industry leader for children’s cooking education, I can say with total and complete confidence that there is no better activity than cooking to teach children an extensive range of skills. There are the more obvious competencies, such as hands-on cooking and life skills, to the more ambiguous soft skills, patience, confidence and, of course, kindness. It is like the secret ingredient to life that so many of us have lost. This is why we must bring it back, and FAST! 

How does COOKING teach KINDNESS you ask? Simple. 

First, cooking is an enjoyable activity and I have found that people who are happy and enjoy life are kinder. When you have joy to give, you give it. You know the saying; you can’t pour from an empty cup ... It is only when you are full that you can overflow to others. So, let’s see if we can create a lot of overflowing cups. Taking part in a task like cooking, that is not only fun, but also makes you feel confident, empowered and proud, will in turn create an intrinsic motivation to be kind to others. 

Second, cooking creates an opportunity to show kindness to strangers. It’s one thing to show your family kindness, but another to show kindness to a complete stranger. In our cooking programs, students work in pairs and groups, often with children they have never met before. What we see is that cooking teaches kids the benefits of being kind to their peers. Whether it’s gathering a utensil for another camper, measuring out the milk for a group who’s falling behind, or helping a new friend by holding their bowl while they whisk, cooking provides opportunities to be kind to one another and 9 out of 10 times we witness the kids independently stepping into that role without prompt! 

Third, cooking creates food and food is the perfect vessel to show kindness! Our chefs and I get to witness this every day in the summer when our campers rush to share their daily creations with their parents, grandparents and siblings at pick up. You would think the natural behaviour of a young cook would be to hoard their freshly baked cookies for themselves, but surprisingly, what we see is the total opposite. They will share every last crumb with whoever will eat it. What supports this fact even more is what we hear in our morning reflection circle. it's incredibly heartwarming to hear time and time again that it made them so happy to make someone else happy. They want to give back because they recognize how much you give to them. It’s super cute but also demonstrates that they are not motivated by external rewards or compliments for their food, they give because they intrinsically want to! 

And last, but not least, cooking is healing. Insecure? Cooking builds confidence. Anxious? Cooking is meditative and relaxing. Lost? Cooking can and does help so many find their sense of self and a community. The list can go on. The bottom line is the healthier you are the more kind you will be, and it is never too late to heal. Whether they are the bully or have been bullied cooking is the remedy. 

So, yes, times are tough, but we are far from doomed. If we can band together and get our kids cooking again, not only will we build a generation of youth who are confident, self-sufficient and independent, but in the process, we will spark the kindness within them. From there, we will see more raising up, than putting down and more standing up, than standing by!  In no time, we will live in a world where kids share cookies not insults. It just all starts in the kitchen. 

About Chef Shai Mandel: Shai has a Bachelor of Kinesiology degree as well as an Ontario Teaching Certificate and a Chef Training Certificate. Over the past 6 years, she has had the privilege of teaching over 5,000 students how to cook at 16 summer camp locations in the GTA. She is the Founder and CEO of Rooks to Cooks.

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