Cooking with kids may be one of the most beneficial things you can do with them, but entering into a kitchen with a child can also be a very dangerous, messy and stressful situation. Here is my guide to set you and the kids up for kitchen success. You will reap only the benefits of cooking with children and leave the headaches for another day.
Set a mood for fun and learning. Cooking with kids will take more time and does require effort. But as with most things in life, the good things are worth the work and the wait. Keep your cool with little chefs; play as they learn. Remember: Cooking with kids is as much about the “process” as it is the product.
Setting up for success:
Don’t take on new tasks if you or the child is “starving.” If this is the case, pick a quick recipe that makes a quick healthy snack, or have veggies, fruit, and dip to snack on before you start.
Make sure you and the child are well-rested; most people tend to get cranky more easily if they are hungry or tired.
Make time for cooking. Cooking with kids can take longer as they are learning new skills. Enlist their help on a weekend afternoon when you don’t feel the mid-week time crunch of activities.
1. Planning is part of the fun! Have fun choosing the recipe.
- Share about the task you are doing, why you are doing it and what is happening. Allow them to help in planning a menu, choosing a recipe, and finding the correct ingredients so that they can become familiar with the kitchen.
- Choose simple recipes to start. The easier a dish is to prepare, the more likely the kids will want to make it again. Start with things like quick breads, muffins, pasta, dips, smoothies, and sandwiches.
- Given the child’s age and skill set, think about which steps your child can do independently. For example, kids who can read can call out the ingredients from the recipe card while you put them out on the counter. A younger child can help you pour and measure ingredients into a bowl. An older child might be able to mix or maybe even cut ingredients.
- Doing some prep work in advance, such as washing items, trimming meats or cutting hard vegetables will make the process move more swiftly.
2. Create a safe place where kids can cook.
- All people cooking should wash their hands before beginning. Set up a work area at a lower height to make it easier for preschoolers to reach things. Offer children a stool only if you know they can balance on it.
- Give frequent reminders about what’s OK okay to touch and which items can hurt them. Remove any sharp objects from their reach.
- Talk about which kitchen tasks are for grown-ups and which ones are for kids.
- Establish clear kitchen rules so they are aware of the fun and as well as the dangers of the kitchen, such as washing hands, not touching stove knobs or knives, cleaning up and getting to taste what you are making. I call this the “chef’s bite” ?only those cooking can taste the food as we are making it. Kids love this as it makes them feel special.
3. Closely supervise children of all ages.
- Do not leave a child unattended in the kitchen. If you must leave for a moment, take the child with you. Accidents can happen in the quickest moments.
- Explain to them about the stove in age-appropriate, simple terms; for example, “The stove is hot! It’s not OK okay to touch it. Adults will handle the hot items. You can watch.” Always keep pan and utensil handles turned towards the back of the stove.
4. Give children their own safe utensils.
- Offer children wooden or plastic tools that are smaller and fit the size of their hands. Avoid giving children graters, as fingers can easily get scraped. Children can help snip herbs with rounded edge scissors. When a child is responsible enough, you can allow them to use small knives under close supervision. When you are using a knife, be sure to demonstrate safe knife skills, such as holding the knife properly, keeping blades sharp, using the appropriate knife for the task and cutting on flat skid-proof surfaces. If you need assistance with knife skills, contact me about a specialty session or watch this video on what knives you need. Note: your child will learn how you teach them, so only teach them good healthy and safe habits.
5. Other learning is in the mix!
- Ask the child to read each instructions aloud as you prepare the food, which will help with learning sequencing and following directions.
- Your child can count and help measure to build math skills.
- Do a bit of history after the dish is complete to find out where it came from or any special holidays or cultures that are associated with it.
6. Introduce new foods.
- On average, we need to taste foods up to 11 times to know if we “like it or not.” Introduce new foods in different ways with different sauces, shapes or cooking methods, like such as sliced apples, apple sauce, and baked apples.
- Make simple things special: Using Use a variety of cookie cutters to shape bread, cheese slices or even apple or red pepper slices to makes them special.
7. Make set-up and clean-up part of the routine.
- Know that you will most likely have a little mess, spilled flour, milk or a dropped egg. Do not let these moments frustrate you as this will frustrate the child, as well. Simply use it as a learning moment to teach how to do the activity next time and show that it’s okay to make a mess as long as we clean it up, too.
- When all cooking is done, assist the child in simple tasks to help clean up. Even if it is just putting a few items in the sink and washing their hands, it is important that the child learns that cleaning up it is part of cooking.
- To help avoid messes, guide children to measure over a cookie sheet that can catch excess, or break eggs into separate bowls to avoid slip-ups that ruin the entire dish.
8. Give praise, acknowledgement and encouragement
- Lastly, compliment your little chef. Celebrate their accomplishment and taste what you made together. This will also open conversation for new items to cook by asking “what do you like about the taste?” “What would you want to do differently next time?” If they have had fun even if they did not like what they made, they will do it again. You are building the foundation of a healthy lifestyle.