It goes without saying: kids love food. Playing with it, throwing it, and (if you’re lucky) even eating it. And they’re just as enamored with the kitchen, watching as grown-ups mix, pour, and create all kinds of fascinating dishes. While it might seem a little scary to get kids involved in the process, including them in your culinary pursuits can boost their confidence, creativity, and problem-solving skills. It’s also a great way to squeeze some family time into your already packed schedule. Here are 4 ways to make cooking fun for everyone involved.
1. Be safe and prepared
Safety always first when it comes to working with budding chefs, so it’s a good idea to set up a few ground rules about hand washingbefore and after handling food — especially if raw meats will enter the equation. This is also a good time to point out kitchen tools that require more caution, like knives, the oven, and the stove. And if you can find a recipe that doesn’t involve any knife work, even better.
2. Keep it simple
Unless your child happens to be the winner of the latest reality cooking show, this is definitely not the time to bust out the blow torch or flambé. Keeping your first recipes easy and straightforward sets realistic, attainable goals, preventing your kids from getting frustrated or overwhelmed.
Some easy recipes can also involve multiple children. A pizza or taco assembly lineis a good way to divvy up tasks and keep everyone included. This system also works for decorating cookies and cupcakes. And assigning separate tasks allows kids with different skill levels to be involved. You can even have all the kids take turns doing the same task.
3. Stay age appropriate
No 2 kids will develop at the exact same rate, so rely on a little bit of intuition. Here are some general guidelines for what tasks will best suit your kids.
For kids on the younger end of the spectrum, a good place to start might be old-fashioned observation. Even simply letting them hold a safe kitchen tool — like a wooden spoon, rubber spatula, or anything else that’s child-safe — will get them acquainted with an implement they’ve never used before. This is also a good opportunity to explain what it does and how to use it. Safe tasks for younger kids include stirring or mixing, kneading, sprinkling, and pouring.
Kindergarten to third graders
Since their motor skills are likely to be more developed, they’ll do well with tasks like cracking eggs or using rolling pins, electric mixers, cheese graters, and frosting bags. They might even be able to handle small knives, such as paring knives (with adult supervision, of course).
This is when you can introduce slightly more advanced kitchen tools such as potato peelers, cutting knives, and even the stove. Prep work, like cutting veggies or meats, would be suitable for kids this age. A child between 9 and 12 could even take on an entire meal that includes multiple tools and stages of preparation.
4. Have patience
Next to safety, patience is the most important part of the equation. Remember, when working with novice chefs, things may take a bit longer than expected, so it’s important to set aside extra time. Be prepared to explain things a few times. And since mistakes (and messes!) are bound to happen, it’s also a good idea to have some extra ingredients around for backup. Most importantly, keep the mood light,even if things don’t go perfectly. It’s all about the journey.
And for your adventures outside the kitchen, check out our tips on how to keep kids happy and entertained on the road.