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5 ways to make cooking with kids fun

Get your kids in the kitchen without wrecking the place!

tips for cooking with kids

Kids are creative by nature which tends to lead them to do great things. It can cause great disasters as well, though, when it comes to spending time in the kitchen.  I feel that fostering a child’s sense of comfort in the kitchen leads to important life skills that they will use for years to come. 

The most heartbreaking thing I hear in my cooking classes is from adults whose parents forced them out of the kitchen at a young age because they were “a bother.”  These adults have no idea how to cook and, much worse, are even afraid to try.

Although it’s often hard to get kids involved in the kitchen, it does not have to be impossible. Here are my top tips to ward off “Kids in the Kitchen” disasters.

1. Schedule it

Set aside an ample amount of time to set up, prepare, cook, and enjoy the results of your time together.  Review the recipe, ingredients and overall cooking time.  Give yourself a comfortable cushion. 

Don’t forget to include time for clean up as well.  Things rushed, done at the last minute or without the proper amount time lead to stress, pressure and disaster for both you and your child. And that’s no fun for anyone.

Consider scheduling your cooking adventure on weekends, or starting after school when there’s no time pressure. 

2. Collaborate

Get your child involved in what it is you’re preparing together.  By getting them to “buy in” they’ll be much more excited and interested in the outcome. 

Planning together can be a great for kids to try new foods, especially vegetables.  For example, if you want to have your child try carrots, challenge them to go online and find a recipe that sounds delicious, that has carrots and that they would enjoy.  For younger children, print out 3-4 recipes and let them decide.  Often, food issues are not about the food itself, but are about having control over the food.  Give your kids the power to decide and watch what happens.

READ MORE: Make Chili. A comforting meal on a cold fall or winter night

3. Safety first

Choose age-appropriate recipes, techniques and tools, using plastic knives for chopping and cutting for younger children.  Teach them how to use small household appliances like can openers and vegetable peelers early with proper supervision.  I actually purchased an inexpensive basket and a set of cooking tools just for my daughter.  Each time we cooked and I taught her how to use a tool, she got to keep it as her own, in her basket. She looked forward to cooking almost every time. 

Create a safe work environment and be sure to set up your work area together first making sure everything is within easy reach.  Let the younger kids use a stepstool to more easily reach items on the counter. Remove unnecessary objects from countertops or anything you feel might be dangerous. Remember, young children should never be left unsupervised. 

4. Let them be

It’s our natural tendency as parents to want to take over in situations where we are really trying to teach.  This is where patience becomes important and where kids can really put parents to the test.  Prove to yourself – and to them – that you are willing to allow them to learn in a calm, comfortable and productive environment. 

Take an age-appropriate step back from controlling the situation and allow your child to do most of what he or she can without your taking over.  Let the flour hit the floor.  Know a mess will be made and that things may turn out less than perfect.  Hands-on is where learning happens and as soon as you try to take over, the stress begins.  Just let go.  Paper towels are on the counter for a reason.

gluten intolerance in kids

5. Celebrate!

Set a beautiful table with your child for your chosen breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Invite your family or your children’s friends to feast on your creations.  Even if you do not have the ability to gather a crowd, post it online. Nothing will make your children happier than comments and compliments on their efforts.  Even when things get burnt, the cupcakes are flat or the recipe doesn’t turn out not so great, there is still a great cause to celebrate. 

Use a 3-ring binder with plastic page protective sleeves to create a page with photos, the recipe and all of the notes you and your child made.  By the time your children are off to college, they’ll have a collection of tried and true recipes and a binder of memories of cherished time spent in the kitchen. 

Cooking with kids can not only be fun, rewarding and productive, but it gives you the chance to truly bond with your children while teaching them valuable life skills. Be prepared, stay relaxed and celebrate the results. This makes it easy on you both and keeps you out of the hospital.

Stacey Hawkins is a CIA trained chef and mom who combines the best (and worst!) of both passions into easy–to-use systems that empower you to make good food, fast and easy.  For other great ideas, visit StaceyHawkins.com.