Building a Nutrition and Culinary Vocabulary

When cooking with children, it is important to introduce new words and concepts to children who may have never prepared food in the past. There is an entire culinary vocabulary out there to explore with young children.  Some of these words will relate to instructions within recipes (“fold in the cheese”), while other terms are related to food items and preparation methods.

Here is a sampling of words you could introduce to children as you explore food together:

  • Absorption – when flour mixes with and retains liquids.
  • Acid (or acidic) – the element in food that makes it taste sour, like lemons and other citrus fruits.
  • Aerate – to sift or beat quickly to add air to the ingredients.
  • Al dente – cooking an item (e.g., pasta) to the point that it is not too soft or too hard.
  • Antioxidants – substances in foods that combat aging.
  • Antipasto – a selection of meats, vegetables, and cheeses that are served as an appetizer.
  • Appetizer – small portions of food that are served before a meal.
  • Apple corer – a tool used to remove the apple core.
  • Arroz – the word for rice in Spanish.
  • Bake – to use an oven to cook a dish.
  • Baking pan – metal containers used to hold items placed in the oven for cooking. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and depths.
  • Batter – the result of mixing wet and dry ingredients in a recipe. It can be thin and pourable, like pancake batter, or thick like chocolate chip cookie dough, which you place on the pan with a spoon.
  • Beat – the act of mixing ingredients to a smooth texture using an electric mixer or a tool such as a whisk or a fork.
  • Blender – an electronic tool used to mix ingredients to a smooth consistency.
  • Boil – to heat a liquid to a temperature where bubbles form and rise to the surface.
  • Bread – to coat a piece of food in bread crumbs before cooking.

So, going through just two letters of the alphabet, you can see that there is a lot to talk about.  And there is so much more.

As you review recipes with children, ask children to find words that they don’t know. Use internet resources to find the definitions of any unfamiliar words.

Use these words as children are cooking in the dramatic play area. For example, “It looks like you are using the whisk to beat those eggs.”

Encourage children to demonstrate different preparation methods, even when they are not cooking, as in a game of culinary charades.

Look for other instances where these words can be reinforced.  For example, “This bread is yummy!  Who remembers another meaning for the word bread?”

Gather vocabulary words from families as well to ensure that you are representing a variety of cultures in your culinary vocabulary.

Most importantly, model the use of different words often and have fun!

ChildCare Education Institute Offers No-Cost Online Course on Cooking in the Classroom

ChildCare Education Institute® (CCEI), an online child care training provider dedicated exclusively to the early care and education workforce, offers CUR129: Cooking in the Classroom as a no-cost trial course to new CCEI users October 1-31, 2022.

Cooking with children is an engaging activity that most children enjoy for its novelty and empowering characteristics.  Cooking can promote a sense of independence and control that is sometimes missing from early learning environments.  Cooking activities also teach skills across the developmental spectrum, including social, physical, and sensory skills along with fundamental skills in science, math, and early literacy.  Exposing children to new foods and teaching them basic cooking skills is also an important step in promoting healthy eating habits.

Planning and helping children prepare simple recipes is worth the effort because cooking is one of the few activities that allow children to do the same things that adults do, increasing their self-esteem and providing them with a fun sensory learning experience.  Unfortunately, concerns about safety, messes, and unappetizing results often prevent educators from including cooking activities into curriculum planning.  The goal of this course is to explore the benefits of cooking with children and provide several simple, no-heat recipes that can be implemented in most early learning environments.

Cooking activities provide a wealth of possibilities for learning and exploration in the early childhood setting. Cooking helps children develop their five senses as well as a sense of independence and confidence. Additionally, cooking activities can be used to target skills and concepts across the entire curriculum, including math, science, early literacy, cultural studies, and social skills.

“Cooking activities provide limitless opportunities for hands-on exploration and experimentation, which is essential in any early childhood curriculum,” says Maria C. Taylor, President of CCEI.  “Age appropriate cooking activities should be considered as part of the regular classroom curriculum.”

Teachers should evaluate classroom cooking activities on an ongoing basis.  It is important to know whether activities and supplies continue to be developmentally appropriate and that children continue to have new opportunities to explore and experiment.  ECE professionals should encourage children to develop a love for trying new flavors, recipes, and cooking techniques.

CUR129: Cooking in the Classroom is a two-hour, beginner-level course and grants 0.2 IACET CEUs upon successful completion.  Current CCEI users with active, unlimited annual subscriptions can register for professional development courses at no additional cost when logged in to their CCEI account. Users without subscriptions can purchase child care training courses as individual or block hours through CCEI online enrollment.

For more information, visit or call 1.800.499.9907, prompt 3, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. EST

ChildCare Education Institute, LLC

ChildCare Education Institute® provides high-quality, distance education certificates and child care training programs in an array of child care settings, including preschool centers, family child care, prekindergarten classrooms, nanny care, online daycare training and more. Over 150 English and Spanish child care training courses are available online to meet licensing, recognition program, and Head Start Requirements. CCEI also has online certification programs that provide the coursework requirement for national credentials including the CDA, Director and Early Childhood Credentials.  CCEI, a Council for Professional Recognition CDA Gold Standard™ training provider, is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and is accredited as an Authorized Provider by the International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).