Hi there! Welcome back to Flawed yet Functional! Cooking is a huge part of my life and my family’s life. We have made a concerted effort to eat healthy for the last two years (thank you, Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis!), and that means we cook our own food at home. A topic that I become more passionate about with every passing day is how to cook with your kids. I think we need to be exposing our kids to the kitchen early and often, but it is hard. Believe me, I understand that. Check out my top 9 tips for how to successfully cook with your kids.
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Tools for Successful Healthy Cooking with Kids
First up, let’s cover some tools and accessories that you may need to purchase to provide an environment that allows your kids to be successful in the kitchen. These are all basic things, but with all of them combined, your child will be able to participate in cooking much easier and safer.
In some cases, kids can just use the adult version of a cooking utensil. Wooden spoons, slotted spoons, spatulas, hand mashers, etc. are all user-friendly to both kid and adult.
When it comes to utensils that are sharp, like knives or vegetable peelers, get your kid an age-appropriate version. Children’s knives are very reasonably priced and worth the investment. I started my kids with a serrated plastic knife, and when they mastered that I graduated them to a metal knife with a finger guard.
My kids love having their own special utensils to use in the kitchen. Not only are they safer, but the tools also encourage pride and independence as they help with tasks in the kitchen.
A Slip-Free Stool
Your child’s safety is of utmost importance in the kitchen. Make sure they can easily and safely get to counter height so that they do not accidentally grasp hot things to prevent them from falling. A sturdy wooden stool that does not slip is key to their safety.
We have two different versions of wooden stools in our home, but the Ikea version is our favorite. It stays in the kitchen full time. Occasionally, we pull in a smaller footstool from the bathroom sink so that both of my boys can help in the kitchen at the same time.
Kids do not have the same resistance to heat as you do or the ability to stay clean. Be aware that they may find even a pot handle far from the heat source as too warm to hold. At a minimum, keep kitchen towels on hand for them to use to safely hold the handles of a hot pot still while they stir. Better yet, invest in a set of oven mitts that fit them!
Aprons are always a good idea in the kitchen. You probably don’t need one for the average meal, but kids have the ability to turn everything into a mess. Don’t they?! Grab a child-sized apron or one of daddy’s old t-shirts to keep their clothes clean during the cooking process.
Kid-Friendly Kitchen Tasks
Now that we’ve talked about some kitchen tools for kids, let’s talk about the tasks kids could actually do in the kitchen. The goal is to expose them to cooking at their ability level. Yes, stretch them when necessary, but keep the activity safe and one they can actually accomplish.
Incorporate Play Into Cooking
Kids love to play, and they need to play! Welcome appropriate play into the kitchen. One of my kids’ favorite things to do to “help” me in the kitchen is to create their own meal with the vegetable peels and food scraps. Give them their own cutting board, bowl, and spoon/knife. Then let them chop, stir, mix, and whisk to their heart’s content to create their imaginary masterpiece. My kids are now 4 and 6, and they still love to do this! As soon as a child is able is sit up, you can set a bowl of large scraps in front of them on the floor or in a highchair and let them have a blast playing with food scraps.
This is also a great sensory activity that prepares them to eat the vegetables they are about to see at dinner. If they have already smelled, seen, possibly tasted and touched the vegetables, then they are much more likely to want to eat them come dinner time.
Age Appropriate Kitchen Tasks
Depending on your child’s age, their abilities in the kitchen will be different. When my boys were stationary, I would set them in their high chair in the middle of the kitchen so I could just talk to them while I cooked. I would give them a wooden spoon to bang or chew on while I explained what I was doing. It’s never to early to teach your kids how to cook!
When they are older, they can graduate to tasks needing more skill. Check out this list to give you ideas for your kids!
- Peel the shell off hard-boiled eggs
- Stir a pot or pan while you add additional veggies
- Chop vegetables
- Dump the scraps in the trash or compost
- Be the official “Kitchen Taster” – This is a phenomenal way to get kids to try new food! Give them an official title and ask for their opinion (more salt? Too soft? Too crunchy?) so they know their participation is valuable.
- Whisk batter in a mixing bowl
- Turn the stand mixer on and off
- Add baking ingredients to the mixing bowl
Finally, let’s level set some guidelines that the parent should consider to create an atmosphere for safe cooking or baking with kids. While the physical environment and tasks are important, your attitude and guidance are critical to a positive experience. The likelihood that your kids will want to return to cooking in the kitchen hinges on what you say and how you say it.
Invite Them In
First off, invite your kids into the kitchen to help! Dinner time can be super stressful with people getting hungry and impatient for food to appear. It is natural to tell everyone to get out! However, when possible, plan to start dinner with plenty of time so there’s no stress or hunger issues so you can actually welcome them into the process of making dinner.
Cooking together is a bonding experience for you and your child, and it helps them learn valuable skills for preparing and cooking a real meal. These are life skills that your child needs to know! Ask them to join you in the kitchen so you can teach these skills to them.
Praise Their Work
Once you’ve got your kid in the kitchen, praise their work! They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to spill. Food will slosh out of the pan as they stir, and even the most carefully chopping will land food on the floor. However, you will see that they are trying. They will get great satisfaction and pride from their work if you recognize the effort they are putting forth. Praise them for watching the sautéeing onions carefully. Tell them “Thank you!” for picking up all the fallen potato peels off the floor and putting them in the garbage. Praise their work as much as you can.
Explain Each Task
Whether your child helps in the kitchen frequently or this is the first time, provide an explanation and demonstration for each task before you hand it off to them. My oldest has been in the kitchen since he was 6 months old, and yet will still do some things “wrong.” The best way for me to not get frustrated, and he to have the greatest odds of success, is to show him how to do it. Every time. Verbally explain the steps as you demonstrate how to do the task.
Also, use positive words when correcting a mistake. For example, instead of criticizing them for flipping the vegetables out of the pan, say “it works better like this…” as you show a more gentle way to stir the food. Then let your child try again.
How instruction is given is just as important as the directions itself. Use kind words as you explain each task to your child.
If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try Try Again
Ah, that poem is ringing in my head now! My dad quoted it to me often growing up. The principle is so good for everyone in every area of life. Go read it real quick to be encouraged! Another good one is It Couldn’t Be Done by Edgar Albert Guest. Go read that too to pluck up your can-do attitude!
If we strive, ’tis no disgrace,William Edward Hickson
Though we do not win the race;
What should you do in that case?
Try, try again.
Kids will get bored of helping. You will get frustrated with her efforts. The day will come when you just scream “get out of the kitchen!” (Yes, I have done that, and you will too.) Failure is normal and necessary for improvement. Give yourself grace and try again tomorrow.
Don’t feel bad if cooking dinner ends in tears for all parties. That is a normal part of the growing pains of learning how to cook with your kids. I believe it is more important to be consistent in training your kids how to cook in the kitchen then for any single event to be a raging success story.
As you may have gathered, I’m a huge fan of kids being in the kitchen and helping. Not only do your kids learn valuable skills and you get some help, but it will also help them appreciate their food all the more. Learning how to cook with your kids is as much a growing experience for you as it is for them. Don’t neglect this valuable family bonding time and passing on this lifelong skill!
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Do you want encouragement on other family and healthy eating topics? Check out these posts!
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- Kitchen Knives for Kids
- My Family’s Response to Diet Change