I am the first to admit I’m a bit of a control freak in the kitchen. (Well just in general, I guess, lol.) So when the kids ask to help me cook, my first instinct is to always say no, not today, maybe next time. But there are so many things kids can learn in the kitchen and ways to involve them that can be both fun for them and less stressful for parents.
First, I’ve drilled into them the ground rules: wash your hands, pull back your hair, stay away from the stove. So now they’ll say “Can I help you after I wash my hands?” YES, they’re listening! Next I consider who’s asking to help and give them assignments based on thier age…my kids are 9, 7 and 2, so I’ve got experience with helpers of lots of ages and stages. I’ve narrowed down 4 jobs that I like the kids to help with and I tailor each one to make it age-appropriate.
1. MEASURING Kids at any age enjoy doing the measuring because they know it’s an important job!
Little Ones – Pre-measure dry ingredients and spices into little bowls and let little ones dump things into the bigger bowl. Dumping is always fun!
Older Ones – Explain the difference between dry measuring and liquid measuring, the importance of accuracy (leveling dry ingredients with the back of a knife and setting liquids down to settle to check the exact amount. So much math to learn!
2. MIXING Whether it’s a good old wooden spoon, a whisk or an electric mixer, watching ingredients blend together is always exciting!
Little Ones – Stirring and mixing is a good opportunity to teach team work. Work hand in hand and watch those little eyes widen in amazement as a batter is formed or as whole foods become mashed.
Older Ones – A lesson in patience is usually in order for older kids…mine will mix something for 10 seconds and say “I’m finished!” This is the time to teach kids about scraping down the sides of the bowl, watching for lumps and to show techniques like folding in ingredients.
3. CHOPPING This is always deemed another important job and of course it’s one of the most fun!
Little Ones – Break out a chopping tool or the food processor and let little fingers go to work without fear of getting boo-boos.
Older Ones – With close supervision, I’ll let my older kids slice and dice with a plastic knife. Teach them how to place the flat side down of whatever they are cutting for stability and also instill the importance of different cutting boards for produce and meats or poultry.
4. CLEANING UP Every parents least favorite part of preparing a meal is usually one of the kids favorites!
Little Ones – Toddlers LOVE “washing” dishes. Breakout a step stool, fill the sink with suds and water, throw in some plastic measuring cups and spoons, and let little ones scrub away while you make dinner…a win-win.
Older Ones – Another lesson in team work can be taught here…the good old you wash and I’ll dry. Or show older kids how to load the dishwasher and let them start learning where things are kept as they unload.
So there you have it…some really easy ways to get your kids in the kitchen…cooking, learning and creating some great memories. Start a family tradition that kids get to help with, like Taco Night Tuesday or Sunday morning pancakes! My kids continually surprise me by the things they know and remember, with how interested and excited they get when they’re involved and with how helpful they can actually be. And I love that I’m laying the groundwork for future home cooks…making meals at home will always be the most economical and most healthy option and I want my kids to know and appreciate that. And I want them to be able to share what they’ve learned with their own families someday…a thought that makes me smile and tear up at the same time.
Any good tip or stories about cooking with your kids? Please share!