Kids in the Kitchen: Part One

The following is by contributor Jaimie of Two Chicks and a Hen.

When I talked about surviving the witching hour with small children last March, one of the suggestions I gave was including your children in the cooking.   Next week I’ll have lots of tips for how you can accomplish this in a way that keeps everyone happy and sane, but first I’d like to talk about why you should consider making this a regular part of your routine. 

Some of us cook with our kids all the time, and it’s no big deal, but some of us cringe at the thought of flour all over the floor, more clothes to clean, messy hands, ruined meals, etc.   Although there is some validity to those fears, you can eliminate most of them and successfully cook with kids by being intentional about the way you do it.  A little planning goes a long way in the kitchen.

Why You Should Consider Cooking With Your Kids

If you have yet to invite your kids to cook but would like to, consider the following:

Time Together

Our time is limited.  Most of us, even those who aim for simpler lives, find ourselves busier than we’d like, and this can sometimes mean that we wish we had more time to bond with our kids.  When we think of cooking as something that needs to be done without the kids, we squander a perfect opportunity for bonding and togetherness.   Cooking with our children gives us time together that we might not otherwise have. 

Even if dinner means walking in the door, throwing together a salad, and putting a frozen pizza in the oven, doing these things together is a great way to be with our kids and reconnect, especially if we’ve been away from each other for the day.

Some of us prep all of our food on Sunday for the week because the evenings are too busy.  Again—this is a great time to spend with our children instead of shuttling them off to the next room to watch a movie while we get “work” done.


Cooking it is great for children’s self-esteem.  There are many cooking tasks that even toddlers can accomplish.  When kids help prepare the family’s meal, they have a sense of worthiness and see themselves as a valuable contributors to the household.

Promotes Healthy Eating

Bringing kids into the kitchen helps create a culture of healthy eating.  We can have much more of an impact on our children’s eating if we are buying, planning, and preparing the food together rather than simply serving them a plate of food after working mysteriously alone in the kitchen for an hour.

Also, picky eaters are sometimes more likely to eat or at least try something that they’ve had a hand in preparing.  And we can even discover new things about our children’s food preferences through the act of cooking with them.  My eldest will prepare things in a certain way (especially when making her own pizza) that gives me clues as to how she likes things.

Real-Life, Hands-On Learning

Cooking offers an amazing real-life, hands-on opportunity for all kinds of learning.  Cooking is chemistry.  Cooking is math (measurements, fractions, etc.)   Cooking is botany, especially in the summer when we’re gardening and then eating things we’ve grown.  Cooking is art.  Cooking is culture, manners, and pretty much every other subject you can imagine.

The act of cooking, especially when certain components of it become more second nature, offers us a nice time to simply be together with our children or, if they feel like talking, to chat and find out a little more about what’s going on in their heads.

Remember that it’s not all-or-nothing.  It likely won’t be convenient or desirable for your kids to cook every meal with you, but you can always start somewhere.  And I know some stay at home parents who, after spending all day with their kids, like their quiet alone time when cooking.  If you can’t or don’t want to cook with them often, a weekly group cooking session or even a couple of times a month will give your kids the opportunity to start getting comfortable in the kitchen.

Eventually, when they become more self-sufficient in their tasks, you can actually count on the kids to make the cooking preparation go faster.  I know that an 18 month old’s “help” in the kitchen seems at times to be more trouble than it’s worth.  I’ve been there.  But I’m now seeing the fruits of my labor when my five and a half year old can measure out all the flour for the bread using the proper method of measuring dry ingredients (something I didn’t learn until I was in my thirties) while I’m scuttling about the kitchen getting other things done.

Be sure to come back next Monday for a list of concrete tips to make cooking with kids a smoother and, dare I say it, fun experience.

Do you cook with your kids? Has it been successful? What sorts of challenges have you encountered?

About Jaimie

Jaimie, an American ex-pat living in chilly Montreal, is a single, work-at-home mom to a preschooler and a kindergartener. When she’s not busy building her freelance editing and writing career or making messes with her kids, she blogs about her adventures in creating a simple, creative, sustainable life for her family at Two Chicks and a Hen.

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  1. OH, I know I SHOULD cook with my children and I really WANT to but………..our kitchen is so small! We live in military housing and have a tiny whose floor space is smaller than that our bedroom closet. Really! My children are ages 1, 3, 4, and 5. I have dreams of having a kitchen with a bar/counter where the kids and I could bake cookies and muffins, cut fruits and veggies, and all work on dinner together. Someday, but for now it is nearly impossible :/
    Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds´s latest post: On Keeping It Simple

    • Wow, I thought I had a small kitchen! That’s our apartment kitchen in the second photo, and the counter you see is it…the whole counter. But it sounds like yours is much smaller even, and you have twice the number of kids. That would definitely make it tricky to cook with them!
      Jaimie´s latest post: Preparations

    • Carol Frey says:

      Zowee! – I have the same counter space (although my closets are even smaller;-)) and I have half the kids you do. I just had a thought, and maybe it wouldn’t work for you, but could you make it work at the table? My thought was that with a dedicated, cheap tablecloth (oilcloth, vinyl, etc), perhaps you could set up workspace that could be quickly scooped up, deposited in the sink and garbage (as appropriate) and leave you with a clean table for dinner? Like I said, it was just a random thought. I am so glad I started cooking with my little guys – it makes my life so much more pleasant, that I tried to think of a practical way to make it logistically do-able for you, too…..

  2. You make so many good points. It would be a much better idea to get the kids involved and having fun helping in the kitchen rather than being frustrated that it is a difficult time of day for them. Thanks!
    Suzanne´s latest post: homepage

  3. I absolutely agree with you about how valuable learning to cook is for our children. That’s why I’ve been posting my own “Kids in the Kitchen” ideas for recipes to make with big and little kids weekly. Although it is hard to allow the mess, the results are altogether worthwhile.
    Jen@anothergranolamom´s latest post: Some Thoughts on Practicing: How to Relax and Still Make Progress with your Music

  4. A safety note: When your children are standing on a chair, the back of the chair should always be against the kitchen counter. It secures the chair. Otherwise the chair can fall back easily.

  5. Cooking with kids is harder in some ways, but so worthwhile! Great together time, plus I find my kids are better (usually) about eating stuff they helped to make. I need to do it more!
    maryanne @ mama smiles´s latest post: Six Years Old!!!

  6. Yes it helped fill time…but more than that my kids are really good with fractions. I really think measuring helped them understand math my making it tactical. They are also very aware and interested in the ingredients of food they eat.. so I’m hoping this is going to make them healthier eaters in the long run.
    Diane Balch´s latest post: About

  7. what a nice reminder… sometimes it’s easier just to get the cooking done solo and sit down to dinner together, but you bring up so many thoughtful points about the benefits of sharing the counter.
    eila @ the full plate blog´s latest post: two simple celery root sides: roasted and mashed

  8. My son (almost 4) loves to be in the kitchen, and he wants so badly to be helpful and feel included in this “grown-up business” of cooking. However, I don’t always react with patience and understanding to the mess involved (and the energy that created it), so I’m really looking forward to your next article!

  9. My kiddo is only two-years-old but he helps from time to time. I pretty much agree with all your reasons why cooking with kids is wonderful and I want to add one more reason: so they learn how to cook! I’ve always felt that parenting’s main job is to prepare our kids for adulthood, and I sure would like my son to know how to cook when he’s an adult. Getting him started early and actually enjoying cooking will help him in the long run.
    Sleeping Mom´s latest post: Why kids shouldn’t be forced to share

    • Ha–of course–how could I overlook that reason?! I agree wholeheartedly. As cliched as it is, I’ve always kept this phrase in the back of my mind: “My job is a mother is to work myself out of a job.” It’s so true that among other things, teaching kids to cook gives them an essential life-long skill.
      Jaimie´s latest post: New Post at Simple Kids

  10. My two-year old loves feeling like a big girl when she helps make a meal. She’s also slowly starting to understand the concept of delayed gratification as she waits for cookies to bake in the oven.
    Steph´s latest post: When People Hurt You

  11. Seriously, this is a great post!!! Kids can do so much in the kitchen it just takes a little practice, but the pay off in the long run on the road to be able to take care of themselves and their own families one day is enormous!!! All my kids cook with me, how do folks stop them!!! I have one child that has never eaten a meal he hasn’t helped prepare… I guess it take meals together to the next lever if you prepare your meals together. My kids make lunch everyday, I stand back and let them at it!!! Yes it is messy but cleaning up is part of the training. At the end of the day we all make dinner together, it is a great way to reconnect after an afternoon apart. I guess food is a way of life for us!!!
    se7en´s latest post: Se7en + 1 Build an Apartment Block out of Shoe Boxes…

  12. Excellent topic and post and tips. You are so right about using the time spent in the kitchen after a busy day as time to connect with your children. It makes so much sense, but so easy to forget in the rush to get a meal to the table.
    A friend of mine recently told me that she cooks with her son because he is allergic to gluten and will have to learn how to prepare gluten free meals for the rest of his life. We don’t have allergies in our house, but that really resonated and made sense. I just borrowed an excellent book from the library by Laurie David, called “Family Dinners” and I am trying to incorporate some of the tips in our meal preparation and dining.

  13. My daughter (4) recently started cooking from Mollie Katzen’s book “Pretend Soup” and it is just wonderful. It’s recipes are in pictures and it has great tips for how the adult can set up a great cooking experience. My daughter and I cook in snacks in the afternoon so we can relax and enjoy the experience without the pressure of prepping a meal for the entire family.

  14. So true! I cook all the time with my kids and I already see my 4 year old able to do quite a lot in the kitchen. It is more work, but so worth it.
    Johanna´s latest post: What is hospitality?

  15. Sarah Alex says:

    It is always good to have your kids helping you in the kitchen. But one must always ensure their safety first.
    I love the photographs, but the photograph with the kid standing on the chair got me very scared. One should take care of such situation before hand.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Sarah Alex´s latest post: how to seduce a woman

  16. This is awesome! I love to cook with my older daughter. I realized recently that I was cooking with her when she was just 13-months-old. Her now 14-month-old sister is not currently in the kitchen, but I don’t think she’d be so interested. It’s not her personality right now, but we’ll have to work on it.

    If you’re interested, I wrote a post awhile back about getting toddlers to help with cooking. It’s here –
    Tara´s latest post: Images from 2.0

  17. I’ve never understood the rationale or need behind those little “play kitchen” sets that you can put in your kid’s room. Why not let them learn with you in the real kitchen?

    My 5 yr old is an old pro at cracking eggs. He rarely makes a mess or gets shell in the bowl. He desperately wants to try flipping pancakes, but I’m just not quite ready for that yet!

    More out of necessity than planning, our Mom had my brother & me in the kitchen very early on. Neither of us are master chefs, but both of us are quite good and we are each the primary cooks in our respective homes too.

    My goal for my son is to give him the skills – in the kitchen and elsewhere – to be self-sufficient. And I want to permanently sidestep the notion that there are any jobs around the house that he shouldn’t do because he’s a guy – that one really crawls under my skin.

    So, yes, he helps cook, set the table, do laundry, sweep floors, vacuum carpets, rake leaves, take out trash, and just about anything else that I do. And helping to wash the car is a treat, not a chore!
    Rob O.´s latest post: Gotcha Day – 4 Year Anniversary

  18. It’s amazing and funny to me how my kids sometimes *insist* on helping me make meals, and other times I couldn’t bribe them with candy to help. It’s also interesting and funny how sometimes they really *are* a help and other times, not so much. But I love all the groundwork that cooking lays out for them, and everything else that you said so well, Jaimie.
    6512 and growing´s latest post: this moment

  19. We make tamales together as a family every thanksgiving and Christmas! Crockpot recipes are also great , too Fr kids to help with. Love what you wrote here, summarizes it so incredibly well!


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