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I am a firm believer in cooking with your kids.
I find that it’s great parent-child quality time, it builds life skills that they will need as adults, and it is just plain fun! My kids remember the times we have spent in the kitchen together. My nieces and nephews talk about when we made brownies or cookies or homemade ice cream.
(Click on the image below for some great homemade ice cream recipes!)
And it’s something that you have to do every day anyways! It feels great to check something off of the to do list and still have quality time with your kids.
That being said, it takes some patience and practice to cook with kids around.
Here’s my top suggestions for having kids in the kitchen. Also read up on our favorite things to cook together!
Control the Chaos
The worst thing about cooking with kids is the mess. It is simply uncontrollable. If I’m going to allow my kids to help me cook, I’ve got to accept the fact that my kitchen is going to be messy.
That being said- I don’t have to let it turn into a disaster area.
How do I control the chaos?
I make it clear to my kids that cleaning is part of cooking. If they want to enjoy the fun, they’ve got to help with the cleanup as well. Kind of a Henny Penny lesson.
I also make sure that everyone helps along the way in simple ways rather than cleaning up a big mess later. When I wait until the end, my kids are overwhelmed at the size and magnitude of the mess. There are more tantrums, more refusal, more arguing, and less work getting done.
It kind of ruins the fun of cooking.
But, if I make sure the cleanup is manageable for each child by giving them small and simple tasks along the way, they don’t seem to mind. Especially once they are in the habit of helping.
I am constantly asking the kids to get ingredients out and put them away. We take turns wiping the counter off (this happens many, many times!). We throw away food packaging, egg shells, etc. immediately after use. We put all dirty dishes straight into the sink or dishwasher.
In the end, I only have two jobs- sweep the floor and start the dishwasher. That’s it!
If I had older kids, I would probably get their help on those two things as well. My younger children enjoy using their child-sized brooms and mops to join mom in this part of the clean up (click the image below!).
With a manageable mess, everyone (including me!) can enjoy the fun of cooking together.
If you need some extra energy before cooking with your kids, read here for some great energy boosting ideas!
Let it Go
This step describes my mental state during cooking. The technical French phrase is “Mise en place”- which literally translated means “Everything in its place.”
Professional chefs use this term to describe both the physical state of the kitchen being clean and orderly as well as a mental state that the chef is in- a state of calm, control, and confidence. You reach this state by being prepared before you begin cooking.
When we apply the term “Mise en place” to cooking with kids, we have a whole new meaning.
For me, being prepared mentally before I begin cooking with my little ones makes all the difference in my level of patience throughout the cooking process.
If I expect a certain level of participation from my kids (but I don’t get it) or a certain result in what we are cooking (but I don’t get it) or active listening and responding from my kids (but I don’t get it)… I lose my patience and the experience is no fun for anyone.
(For some tips on communicating more effectively with your kids when things go wrong, read this post!)
Before I start, I remind myself that this will not go my way.
It just doesn’t happen.
Someone is going to get egg shells in the batter. Someone is going to spill the milk. Someone is going to have a different opinion on how to follow the recipe.
It’s all ok if I have prepared for these things beforehand.
My husband calls this my “thick skin”. If he reminds me before I do anything difficult to “put on thick skin”, I typically react better because I was prepared for it. If I go in with set expectations, I am easily frustrated when those expectations aren’t met.
So be ready for detours and variations in your plan.
Here are my top techniques for cooking with kids. These limit the mess, waste of food, and frustration for everyone.
- Be safe.
- Mom is in charge of using knives until children are older. When kids are old enough to use the knives, mom supervises.
- Mom is in charge of any heat (oven, stove top, toaster, griddle, grill, etc.) until the kids are older. When they are old enough to try using these things, mom supervises.
- Give warnings to each other before you walk behind another person. This keeps us from accidentally spilling or hurting each other with sharp objects or hot objects.
- Mom uses the can opener until kids are older.
- Kids are taught why each of these kitchen objects are not safe. They learn that although these things could hurt them, we can stay safe by using them properly. Kids are taught to use each object properly at an appropriate age.
- Be healthy.
- Wash hands before and during cooking. Be especially careful to wash hands after handling raw meat.
- Avoid “cross contamination”. Be aware of what surfaces or utensils have touched raw meat and do not allow those things to touch other foods.
- Be aware of how long cold foods have been left out of the fridge. Cold foods should not sit out on the counter for an extended period of time.
- Heat foods thoroughly to avoid food borne illness.
- Teach children about health hazards in the kitchen and how to be healthy in your cooking.
- Break eggs into separate bowl rather than breaking eggs directly into the food you are cooking. If a child accidentally gets egg shells in the separate bowl, they are easy to scoop out with a spoon. If the child breaks the egg shells directly into the food you are cooking, they can get lost in the food.
- Measure out things beforehand. The parent can be in charge of measuring each ingredient. Then the child can pour the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. This ensures that your food matches the recipe and will turn out great!
- Pour liquids into a small cup or a liquid measuring cup. Avoid using a dry measuring cup for liquids as they are easy for a child to spill.
- In all cooking skills, slowly increase child’s independence. Some things will be off limits at first, such as cutting food with a knife. Slowly teach your child how to use the knife safely. Start by allowing the child to watch you use the knife as you describe how you are being safe. Then, both the child and the parent hold the knife together to practice using a knife. Slowly help the child less and less until the child can cut food on his own under your supervision. Eventually, the child will be fully independent in using a knife. Make sure to be conscious of the child’s age and emotional standing when you consider teaching this skill.
- Let kids choose foods to cook. This is a great way to get kids to try new foods. They are much more excited about things when they get to choose them and help make them. Take your child to the store and include him or her in the shopping, meal planning, cooking, and serving of the meal.
- Give yourself extra time so that you can go slow. This avoids any extra headaches and allows children to learn at their own pace.
A common parenting mistake is to complete a task without explaining what you are doing to your child.
Cooking is an important life skill that every person will use. When your child goes to college or moves into their first apartment, they will need to know how to prepare meals for themselves.
Every time you allow your child to participate in the kitchen, they are learning bits of new information that will benefit them later on in life. You can supplement that learning by describing to your child what you are doing. Explain why. Explain how.
Teach children kitchen safety, avoiding illness, how to eat healthy, how to use various kitchen appliances and utensils, how to read and follow a recipe, how to measure ingredients, how to supplement ingredients when needed, how to make basic staple food items, etc.
Don’t assume that your child will get all that information just from watching you.
Your words, example, and explanations increase their learning. Allowing the child to try what they have learned for themselves solidifies the knowledge in their minds, making it easier to recall down the road. Be ready to help when needed and correct mistakes in a kind way.
Not sure what to cook? Read more about child-friendly recipes or click the image below for a great child-centered cookbook!
Cooking with your kids in an intentional way prepares them for an independent life.
Have fun along the way. Enjoy the wonder and excitement that young children have by teaching them a new skill. They won’t be this small for long!
Share this post with any parent who wants their kids to be independent!
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