Cooking with kids can be messy and stressful, but it can also be a bonding and fun experience. Cooking with your kids creates memories that they (and you) will cherish forever.
I’m sharing my tips for cooking with kids. I’m going to keep it real about the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you are contemplating letting your little ones help you with cooking or baking, there are some pros and cons to consider.
The most obvious consequence of letting children into the kitchen is the mess. We all dread it. There will definitely be a much larger mess than what you would have made on your own. If you have multiple children working together with you, then there is also the inevitable fighting. “I wanted to pour that!” “No it’s MY turn!” You get the idea. I can tell you from experience, this will definitely happen. Lastly, kids make mistakes. They make a lot more mistakes than we do. So, maybe you perfectly measure the flour and half of it ends up outside the bowl when they dump it in. This can be a very annoying con of cooking with kids, especially when you are baking and the measurements are important.
I bring my children into the kitchen with me frequently. So, there are obviously pros to outweigh the cons. The most significant pro is creating memories that will last for a lifetime. Working on any kind of project as a team with your children creates bonding and togetherness. In spite of any fighting, it is a positive experience for them. And it’s a low-key way to teach life skills! Baking teaches fractions in a way that no book ever can. You are also teaching your children critical cooking skills that will help them later in life. They retain a LOT more than we realize. Just listening to my 10 year old talk about her memories, I realize that every little moment really does matter. So Is it worth it? Absolutely!!
Making it Work
Knowing it’s worth it is very different than understanding HOW to make it happen.
I like to start them when they are still babies. As soon as my child can sit up safely, then I will allow stirring of foods that are safe to eat. Avoid raw batters for babies. They will inevitably sneak the spoon into their mouth at some point.
Once they are able to stand and follow basic instructions, they can be given the whisk to scramble eggs, or a spoon to mix batters. I tend to favor baking for young children as opposed to cooking tasks. Cooking is often over a hot stove and just isn’t safe; however, baking is mostly prepped on the counter top. This is a great way to include the kids. You can give a pre-measured scoop of ingredients to the child to dump into the bowl. Be mindful, they often miss by a bit. I try my best to keep a hand near for guidance. Another task that little ones often love is hand over hand mixing. When you are using a hand mixer, place the little hand on the handle, then cover it with yours so you can guide the movement and control the speed. My kids always really loved this.
It’s important to note that I am not naming ages on purpose. It’s important to gauge the child’s maturity, not the age. There are vast differences among children; who can handle what and at what age. Some children are more dexterous than others, or follow instructions better. Make the decision based on maturity for which tasks they are ready for.
That said, the next level would be to actually read the recipe and measure ingredients. Teach your child how to divide the fractions into spoons. They can start to learn how to convert ¼ cup into 4 Tablespoons for example. If you need 1-½ cups of flour, give the child a ½-cup scoop and ask “how many of these scoops do you need?” They can learn terms from the recipe. What is mixing? Sifting? Why is it important to follow the directions exactly? These are critical life skills.
Lastly comes help with actual cooking. Teach oven safety. Talk about how to not get burned. If you have a gas stove, teach about gas and what it smells like and why it’s important to make sure the burners are off. Begin teaching knife skills, starting with softer foods. Your child can start to learn how to use tools like a can opener, blender, apple corer, etc.
I tend to avoid “child-friendly” cookbooks and recipes. I have never liked the idea of dumbing things down. I don’t use baby talk with my children either and never have. My children understood the word delicious by age 2, every one of them. For recipes, I teach what they can do and help with the rest. I expect that over time, what they can do will increase. I let them grow into the recipe rather than change the recipe to their level. I’m very passionate about raising humans that can cook for themselves. They don’t have to love cooking. They don’t have to be amazing chefs or bakers. But they must be competent cooks that don’t need to rely on others to have hot, healthy food.
Those are my goals when cooking with kids. Whatever your goals are, including your children in the kitchen is worth every moment of mess even simply for the beautiful memories it makes. See the pride on your child’s face when everyone eats something they had a hand in!
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