Cooking Up Fun: With Hands-on Classes and Shiny New Kitchens, Children’s Museums Around the Country Are Teaching Kids to Eat Healthy and Try New Foods

Cooking Up Fun: With Hands-on Classes and Shiny New Kitchens, Children’s Museums Around the Country Are Teaching Kids to Eat Healthy and Try New Foods

By Claire Zulkey

A father and daughter at The Teaching Kitchen at the Children’s Museum of Denver. Photo: courtesy of Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus

Photo: courtesy of Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus

Photo: YoungDoo M. Carey

Photo: courtesy of The Franklin Institute

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The hummus is a hit at the Teaching Kitchen at the Children’s Museum in Denver. Is it the ratio of garlic to lemon? The chunky consistency? Nel Nelson of Aurora, Colorado, who often brings his children and nieces to the museum’s Teaching Kitchen, has his own theory: “The kids get to smash the ingredients with a pestle,” he says. Something about pint-size chefs having a good time just makes food taste better. 

Kids in Denver aren’t the only ones who have the chance to get giggly in the kitchen on a day at the museum. Across the country, children’s museums are aiming to teach their young visitors about food science, nutrition and agriculture by offering cooking demonstrations and hands-on classes that are fun for the whole family.  

All children can benefit from learning about where their food comes from and how to make healthy snacks and meals, but these programs are especially beneficial for picky eaters, says Lara Field, a Chicago nutritionist. “Having a place where we can make food fun is a step toward improving habits and making new foods more approachable,” she says.

There are similar programs across the country, but here we showcase three museums where parents and kids can make something delicious together. If you’re looking for a program near you, give your local children’s museum a call. If it’s not equipped with a teaching kitchen, check with nearby culinary schools, kitchen stores or even grocery stores about cooking workshops for kids. 

Denver, Colorado 

The Teaching Kitchen at the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus 

A 2015 expansion allowed the museum to offer its young patrons a proper kitchen that includes low tables, kid-sized tools, fresh ingredients and enthusiastic teaching chefs. Nelson is always impressed by how seriously the Teaching Kitchen takes the classes and how it rubs off on the kids. “They wash hands and don real chef’s aprons,” he says. After the kids cook, chef educators ask each participant individually what they liked and what they would change. “This simple and magnificent opportunity to learn is invaluable,” Nelson says. Though he brings his little ones, the Teaching Kitchen offers classes and workshops for all ages, from drop-by demos that incorporate a story with a featured ingredient to Chopped Junior-style cooking challenges aimed at older kids.

Classes and public programs are offered daily and are free with museum admission ($11-$13; free for members) on a first-come basis, while fee-based workshops (longer lessons, smaller class sizes) cost $10-$30 per person.

Visit: 2121 Children’s Museum Drive, Denver
Call: 303-433-7444

Greensboro, North Carolina 

The Edible Schoolyard at the Greensboro Children’s Museum 

Famed chef and restaurateur Alice Waters’ initiative to make “edible education” available to children yielded a campus at the Greensboro museum that includes a half-acre teaching garden, live chickens and a teaching kitchen. Offerings range from weekly classes to one-off workshops with themes like Dr. Seuss-inspired “green eggs and ham.” The courses are designed for all ages, from preschoolers to tweens and teens interested in making their own ramen or Spanish tapas. No matter the menu, the focus is on seasonality and cooking from scratch, which chef-educator Jennifer Bedrosian believes opens minds and taste buds. “We’ll go out, harvest beets from the garden and make beet chips with olive oil and salt and pepper in the kitchen,” she says. “I’ve witnessed so many kids who would never have touched a beet at home digging through the bowl.”

Classes are offered several times a month and accept advance registration. Class 
prices vary, but members receive discounts.

Visit: 220 N. Church St., Greensboro
Call: 336-574-2898

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Kitchen Science program at The Franklin Institute 

Educators at this science museum, along with chefs from the museum caterer Frog Commissary, know how to make cooking interesting to children – let them get their hands dirty. “Anytime you can immerse yourself in a sensory experience, you’re much more likely to come away having learned something,” says public programs manager Shanna Caster. With kitchen science, she says, participants can touch and taste, which isn’t feasible with most types of science. Picture making salad dressing by adding mustard, balsamic vinegar and vegetable oil to a jar and letting your little one shake it to her heart’s content, or doing a blindfolded taste test of sauces to prompt a discussion about smell and texture.

Kitchen Science classes, offered monthly, are targeted at kids 4-12. Pricing ranges from free with museum admission ($19-$23; free for members) to $30.

Visit: 222 N. 20th St., Philadelphia
Call: 215-448-1200

Discover more cooking class recommendations for kids in Subaru's Drive Magazine