The following post is by contributor Jaimie of Two Chicks and a Hen.
7 Tips for Successful Cooking With Kids
Today I’d like to share some tips for how to successfully cook with kids. If your small children have never cooked with you before, you might not all collaborate on a massive Thanksgiving meal the first time you cook together. Start small, and you’ll find that shared food prep becomes second nature before too long.
Until then, try these tips for making the experience smoother:
- Teach your children, by showing, exactly how to complete even very simple, seemingly obvious cooking tasks. Things that seem logical to an adult who has been stirring dry mixes or whisking eggs for 15 years are not necessarily intuitive to a child. This is one of those things that truly took me a long time to process. I’d hand over a task to my daughter and then feel frustrated when it resulted in an ineffective mess. I didn’t initially realize that even if her fine and gross motor skills would allow her, for example, to stir without splashing the cake batter all over the counter, she didn’t necessarily understand the importance of keeping most of it in the bowl. I now teach my girls how to do even very small kitchen tasks (when it’s something I care about how it’s done), and I’ve found this to be far more effective than just assuming that something is obvious to them.
- Let go of your concern for perfection. In some cases, the cooking tasks need to be completed in exactly the right manner, or the food won’t turn out properly. Leave those tasks for yourself or closely monitor your kids. But the reality is that some things really don’t matter. My girls love to shape the loaves of bread before we bake them. Their loaves never look like they came from the bakery; in fact they often look unlike any bread I’ve ever seen before. But they’re close enough that we can still cut the bread and use it for all the normal purposes, and my kids get so much satisfaction from doing this.
- Try not to worry so much about mess. I know…this is hard. It’s hard for me, I’ll admit. The only kind of mess that really doesn’t ever bother me is art-related mess. I’m not a big fan of cleaning the kitchen, so more mess in that room certainly adds to my stress level. And I understand, too, that when you’re extremely short on time, the last thing you want is more cleaning to do. But this kind of mess is temporary. The more skilled your kids become in the kitchen, the less messy the results.
- Employ mess-prevention habits. A little forethought can actually help prevent a lot of the extra mess associated with tiny chefs. First off, give your children their own small aprons. This needn’t cost money as they can easily be made from an old adult-sized shirt. Both of my girls have their own aprons hanging in the doorway of the kitchen, and they both put them on as they enter the room to start cooking. This helps us cut down on wardrobe changes (and thus extra laundry). Keep a couple of very deep bowls on hand for when the kids are going to stir things, or try using a bigger bowl than called for in the recipe. The more shallow the bowl, the more likely the ingredients are to fly all over the place. And of course, use the “clean as you go” system, and have your kids join in along with you.
- When possible, try allowing the kids to make their own kid-sized version of the food. This works well for certain things. Whenever we make homemade pizza (once a week), my girls make their own. I rip off a small lump of dough for each, and they shape it however they choose. My youngest daughter’s, especially, never looks like your standard image of pizza, but after covering it with toppings and baking it, she’s thrilled to eat it.
- Consider child-sized equipment. Personally, I’m not a big fan of buying a bunch of extra stuff, but we do have a few child-sized cooking implements, and they bring my girls great joy. In particular, we use our child-sized wooden rolling pins at least once or twice a week, and those are much better for small hands. We have a few other small tools we’ve gotten at the dollar store that come out less often. Special kid tools might really help with a child who is reluctant to help in the kitchen. I often find that with my girls, having their own special tools for any task really ups the fun level.
- Be safe. Again, don’t assume that kitchen dangers are obvious to the kids. If I put a hot pot on a trivet to let it cool, it’s clear to me that it’s still going to be hot three minutes later, but that three minutes might seem like half an hour to my preschooler. The kitchen is an amazing place to learn, and it’s also full of risky tools like knives, heating elements, hot pans, etc. It would be a mistake to keep kids out of the kitchen in order to prevent accidents, but we should always be vigilant, especially with smaller children.
Where to Begin? Age Appropriate Tasks
Not sure where to begin? Here’s a sampling of cooking tasks my three year old regularly accomplishes:
- peeling onions and garlic
- tearing lettuce
- punching down dough
- shaping bread loaves
- grating cheese (with supervision, of course)
- adding (pre-measured by me) wet and dry ingredients
- stirring dry and wet mixtures
My five and a half year old does all of the above and has moved onto “big girl” things like:
- properly measuring out dry ingredients
- cutting simple things like tofu (supervised)
- peeling carrots
- stirring at the stove, when we’re cooking something on low heat
- cracking eggs
- scooping batter onto the waffle iron
Though they aren’t a necessity, there are lots of fun kids’ cookbooks out there, too. Mollie Katzen has several with step by step pictorial instructions, including Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes: A Cookbook for Preschoolers and Up, and Honest Pretzels: And 64 Other Amazing Recipes for Cooks Ages 8 & Up, so kids can “read” along (though you still would need to read them the instructions if they aren’t reading yet.)
Rae Grant wrote a vintage-inspired book called Cooking Fun: 121 Simple Recipes to Make with Kids. And there’s even a cute cookbook written by two kids–the Spatulatta Cookbook. These might be especially helpful for slightly older kids who aren’t sure that cooking is quite for them. Sometimes having the opportunity to look through your own cookbook and choose a recipe can be inspiring.
What do you cook with your kids? What tips would you add?