Have you ever tried cooking with your kids and bringing them into the process of creating meals with you? I have been inviting our two-year-old into the kitchen for a little over six months now, and I wish that I started it sooner.
It takes more patience to cook with a crowded kitchen, but I also see it as an opportunity to multitask with learning, cooking, and having fun together all at once. Plus, you can save other tasks to do during that coveted solo time later on. Win!
I have a feeling that this post might change a bit when my son is older, so we will label this the toddler edition and might revisit it in a few years.
Please know that I do not consider myself an expert in on this subject, but I do have a collection of tips that I have tried with great success and I would like to share them with you.
I hope this helps anyone who has been thinking about bringing their kiddos into the kitchen, and feel free to leave your tips in the comments, too!
Start with easy recipes that they get excited about.
This will peek their interest to help make it, and extra points if they get to pick the recipe out themselves. Also, the simpler the better … maybe select recipes that only call for five or so ingredients to start and go from there.
Plan a lot of extra prep time into your cooking session.
I always allow for extra prep time when planning to make recipes, and this is especially true when I know that I will have extra hands in the kitchen to “help” me. Don’t stress over it!
Assign items that are just for them so they feel special.
Mommy has her apron, so Skyler has his special cooking bib. (I think it’s time to invest in a kid’s apron. Cute options here, here and here!) It’s not a bad idea to get a mini utensil set like this and use them (along with your utensils) while cooking. We name items like “Sky tools” or “Sky stool” in our home, and this amps up the excitement to use them when cooking.
Pre-measure your ingredients, or have them help you do it.
Some people say pre-measure your ingredients if you want to speed up the prep time, and this could be a huge time saver. If I have the extra time, however, I like to include my little guy in the measuring process because it gets him familiar with numbers and what different amounts of things look like. Plus, he’s more invested in the recipe, so he’s more inclined to try and like the meal or baked good!
Ask them to dump the spices and help with mixing.
This is Skyler’s favorite part outside of icing cupcakes or decorating cookies. He likes to see the different colors and help blend them all together. While this is happening, it’s also a chance to say what you’re doing out loud with the amount the recipe calls for. (Saying that you’re adding 1/2 tsp oregano can help them learn more than just pouring everything in.)
Embrace the mistakes and use them to teach.
Piggy backing off of the point above, look for moments that can help to explore and learn new things throughout the process. With clean hands, have them help with rolling dough, mixing and making meat balls, and dropping cookies onto a baking sheet. It’s okay if things aren’t picture perfect. If you make mistakes, talk through them and explain how you can fix it or what you can do to make it better next time.
Stress safety and remind them what is and isn’t okay.
We don’t touch stovetops, ovens, or electric appliances, but we can touch wooden spoons, tin foil, pot holders, etc. Talk about what is only okay for adults to do and touch, and other tasks that kids can do. Instill the importance of your their hands regularly, before you start and throughout the prep when dealing with raw ingredients.
Make the clean up just as fun as cooking.
Cooking with littles can be fun if allow yourself to loosen up a little. Try playing music that they like to hear and don’t dread doing the dishes at the end of it all. It’s part of the cooking and learning process. I prefer to clean as I go, or as something bakes, but I try not to put too much emphasis on this because things get messy. And that’s okay.
I’ve discovered that the more I let go, the more enjoyable the process is for everyone involved. Just like most things surrounding parenthood, cooking with little hands and short attention spans isn’t necessarily an easy task. But it’s well worth it.
Don’t wait for the perfect time to include them.
I used to think that I had to cook during Skyler’s nap times or set him in front of the television to get dinner on the table. This isn’t the case at all! He may not be old enough to chop veggies, but he enjoys being there as my helper and asks questions about everything. If he seems like he’s losing interest, I’ll assign him to “wash the dishes” by playing with water, safe utensils, and even small bath toys in the sink as we are cooking. He loves it!
- Allow them to taste test as you’re cooking! (Just wash utensils and little fingers.)
- Boil large pots of water on the back burners, far away from them.
- Use sharp knives over dull ones, as they cut a lot more smoothly.
- Try using tools like a food processor, garlic mincer, veggie chopper, etc if you have them. Kids like seeing them work and it could be more interesting and safer than chopping.
- We don’t have room for a kid’s standing/learning tower in our tiny kitchen, but I’ve heard amazing things about them if you do. I would totally go for this, this, this or this one.
I would love to know … do you cook with your kids?
Please drop your success stories (and fails!) in the comments, and let me know how it’s going. I’m sure we could all use the encouragement and/or laugh.
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